Facing mental health with dignity

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Awareness Day. It is a day that is not very well known in Mumbai — it certainly has to catch up with the hi-octane fervour that accompanies Valentine’s Day or Women’s Day. In fact, Mental Health Day falls amidst the ongoing Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that this year’s theme is dignity in mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Day, like mental health itself, still has to find itself on the radar of Mumbaikars. The week itself is hardly discussed, and the day passes by with a stray seminar, where professionals speak about current trends in mental health.

It is time to focus aggressively on this little-discussed and recognised gamut of ailments. The acknowledgement of mental illness itself is challenging. Often, those who suffer are in denial or their families don’t allow them to seek help, citing stigma or shame.

There is a paucity of professionals too. Though there are no official figures available, according to some surveys, there is one mental health professional for every four lakh Indians. Such dismal figures allow charlatans and bogus healers to take advantage of the ignorant, passing off mumbo-jumbo as healing. This is, of course, designed to lighten wallets but it can prove dangerous. Even today, people with problems would rather seek advice from self-styled spiritual gurus than medical professionals.

Mental health is a serious illness and does not deserve the flippancy or the ‘hey, it’s all in your head’ attitude with which it is often dismissed. Hospitalisation may be necessary in certain cases, and a full course of medication and monitoring is sometimes warranted.

This year, let us resolve to give the mentally ill the dignity they deserve and hope for more access and avenues of treatment. Start by encouraging someone you know who is battling depression to make an appointment with a consellor.

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