You know how you lash out when you are having a blinding headache and someone switches on the lights? Or when you’re trying to sleep and the neighbours won’t turn down the blaring music? Or how you’re trying to concentrate but someone keeps clicking the pen incessantly? Won’t you be enraged and expect some basic understanding from these annoying people around you? You just want some peace and quiet. That’s not much to ask for, right?
Well, that’s exactly what people suffering from mental illnesses expect from you too. Just some basic understanding.
But what do they get instead? Name-calling. Fears. Bullying, being social outcasts. Isolation, stink eyes, inferior treatment from many with IQs significantly less than their own. Because let’s face it, we don’t even look at them as people. We look at them as liabilities. As burdensome companions, as if you are forced to babysit them. Imagine if your parents and friends behaved in that contemptuous way with you all the time, as if you were a pain to be with, that they were doing you a favour by letting you stick around. Hurts badly, doesn’t it?
In India we have so many grave misconceptions regarding mental health and psychology. Psychology is the study of our minds and its development, it branches out into different fields that examine the complex human mind in different contexts. Psychologists aren’t doctors who cure “madness”. No, neither can they read your minds. They can’t cannot find your secrets through hypnosis either. It is a science, not magic. They help you diagnose and cure illnesses, just like your regular physicians. The only difference is that, the diseases don’t manifest themselves physically.
Here, the social stigma comes to play. We refuse to acknowledge mental illnesses as “real” health issues. We call it attention-seeking stunts. We call it stupidity, craziness, sometimes even retardation. In an incredibly poignant video, AIB, the Indian comedy group, had shown how the situation would have been if other illnesses were treated like depression, which shows how ignorant we are even as we keep shouting slogans of development and modernity.
Parents need to be made aware to look for signs, as depression and anxiety are on a rise among teenagers, and other psychological disorders and learning disabilities like ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, OCD, Dyslexia, Asperger’s Syndrome and many more are often spotted in kids at an early age. Though many such disorders are incurable, early detection helps in improving the conditions drastically. Parents are often found guilty of punishing and blaming these children of being lazy and stupid, or for being slow learners, not realising that none of it is being done on purpose. It is not their fault, on the other hand they wish more than you do that they were ‘normal’, so to say. Their difference makes it difficult for them to have a comfortable childhood and social relationships, because no matter how hard they try to blend in they will always stick out like a sore thumb. It is not their fault, it is ours as a society for subjecting to our standards of faux normalcy.
They are not faking the voices in their heads, neither are they lying about being disturbed by bright lights or shrill noises. They do not lash out because they like violence, they are not harming themselves because they enjoy doing it. Stop isolating them because you ‘think’ they are violent, so because they ‘seem’ weird to you. Wouldn’t you be taking your doctors to court if they refused to examine you because you ‘seemed’ weird?
They have enough on their plate, your attitude towards should be the least of their concerns. Just because someone’s differentness threatens you, does not mean you behave badly with them.
There’s no understanding or awareness about mental illnesses, purely because we are too ignorant to understand something beyond our noses. Just because their issues cannot be seen, have very less physical manifestation, they aren’t contagious, and hence are of no consequence to you? Is this how shallow we are?
Let’s not stereotype them. Let’s not look at them differently. Let’s understand their quirks, and not laugh at them. Let’s protect them from being bullied, let’s make them feel accepted, feel normal. Let’s make it normal to talk about depression. Let’s not be ashamed of having to go to a psychologist. Let’s be as proud of your autistic child as you are of your other kids. Let’s not talk in hushed whispers about people with such disabilities.
For them, the world is a lot more difficult than it is for you. They struggle to open doors, read instructions or even zip their own pants at times. They want to fit in more than they feel the need to breathe. Let’s not add your prejudice to the list of their troubles. The real problem, it is not in their heads. It is in ours.