If I were to ask you what you do to stay healthy, I would probably receive myriad responses. Eating a good balanced diet, exercising regularly, performing yoga, taking Zumba or Pilates classes, keeping away from vices, cutting out excessive sugar, going to the doctor for regular checkups… and the list goes on. However, when we talk about being healthy, very rarely do we stop to consider our mental health.
Mental health is an integral part of our well being and is as important as our physical health. However, it is ignored more often than not. In fact, a lot of people feel it isn’t a real illness at all, just a phase or something you can ‘get over’.
Imagine asking someone to get over their chicken pox. Yes, asking them to get over their depression is just as silly.
Contrary to popular belief, the mind is as susceptible to illness as the body. It doesn't always need a big event to be triggered and even the seemingly most unlikely people may be suffering through mental health issues.
As a society, it is time for us to shed our inhibitions and taboos surrounding this subject and speak up.
The Key Is To Talk About It
Megha*, a 25-year-old business professional from Mumbai, had been suffering from clinical depression for over 2 years. “I grew up in a family where we didn’t talk about mental health. So when I first started getting feelings of emptiness and worthlessness, I simply thought it was a phase and it would pass. I had recently moved cities for my job, so I attributed it to being homesick and the teething problems of adapting to a new place. I kept sweeping my feelings under the rug, thinking if I ignore them long enough, they’ll disappear,” she says.
About six months later, she had used up all of her sick leaves because she would have days when she simply couldn't get out of bed in the morning. “They started becoming more frequent, there was a constant chaos in my head and to my absolute horror, I started having thoughts about ending my life.” She was, in fact, at a party when a colleague pointed out her change in behaviour. That was when it hit her - something was wrong with her and that other people could see it too. The next day, she went to her doctor who connected her to a psychiatrist.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
Megha explains that when it comes to mental health, the symptoms are so subtle and the stigma so severe, that half the battle is simply to understand and admit that there is something wrong with yourself and that you need professional help. Megha says, “I’d say my first visit to the psychiatrist was the worst and the best day of my life. The worst because the diagnosis confirmed my fears - I was indeed suffering from clinical depression. And the best because from that day onwards, I began to heal.”
Over the course of the next year and a half, Megha underwent regular counselling. In the beginning, she was even prescribed medication to cope. Slowly, her mind began to heal.
“Eventually, I found the strength to tell my family about my depression. I had been putting it off because I had no idea how they would take it. But my parents were absolutely amazing and their love and acceptance made me feel so good, that I wished I had told them sooner,” she smiles.
Let’s Lose The Taboo
Today, Megha can proudly call herself a survivor. As a society, we give such little thought to mental illness and when we do, it has a stigma attached to it. “No-one wants to associate themselves with a mental illness. I think that plays a huge part in why most of us delay seeking professional help. Some of us, unfortunately, never do. God knows my journey would have been so much simpler had I just gone to the doctor earlier,” she observes.
Like every other illness, early diagnosis can go a long way in curing depression. It is crucial for all of us to not shy away from admitting that there may be something amiss with us, even if it isn’t physically visible. Moreover, we should also pay close attention to the people around us. Just because someone is the life of the party, doesn't mean they are fine. Yes, dealing with mental illnesses is hard, but keeping an eye out for ourselves and the people we love, offering a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on, sometimes, is all it takes to save each other.
*Name changed upon request to protect privacy.
Do you know anybody going through depression or any other mental illness? Talk about it in our supportive community, Maala.