With mental health awareness week going on, it is time to focus on this little-known and even less-recognised gamut of ailments. Mental ailments are illnesses of the mind, which are deceptive and certainly not easy to diagnose, because they do not have physical manifestations. Different organisations and professionals working in the field must try all they can to get the message to the public.

Mental health neglect is a huge factor in India. Even today, people with problems would rather take advice from self-styled spiritual gurus, than seek professional help. Many people need clinical treatment and medication, which only a professional or a doctor in the field of medical health can point out. Hospitalisation may be necessary in certain cases, and a full course of medication and monitoring is also needed for several people. This proves that mental health is a serious illness and does not deserve the offhand flippancy with which it is often treated.

The first thing is recognition. People must try and recognise the condition, or at least acknowledge that there is a problem. Only then can they move to the next step, which is seeking help. Coming out of the denial stage is vital, both for the person afflicted with the illness, as well as the family.

There is still a lot of shame and stigma surrounding mental health. This prevents people from seeking recourse for their problems, from professionals. Society still tends to brand a suffering person as ‘mad’, which makes assimilation difficult. Only information will lead to understanding. Understanding is what will lead to sympathy, even if not empathy.

Small steps have been taken in this field. Today, schools have counsellors and many of these have become the guiding lights that children lack in a world where nuclear families have replaced the joint families of old. There is greater recognition of learning disabilities and mental conditions than there was earlier. We live in a much more complicated world than we did, though, so mental health is more at risk. It is time to enhance knowledge and banish stigma shrouding mental health. Let’s begin now.