Being Mindful of the Associations of Mental Health
Arshia Bathla writes, the words we use have always left a deep impact on those around us, from a young age all of us have been taught to be careful about the way we communicate our feelings, often we overlook these lessons.
Let’s have a look at some facts.
In India, the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 reveals that nearly 15% of Indian adults need active intervention for one or more mental health issues and one in 20 Indians suffers from depression.
India is a populous country of nearly 1.3 billion people with children ≤15 years constituting nearly one-third of the population. It has been estimated that more than 2 million people might be affected by ASD in India.
In 2017, 197·3 million people had mental disorders in India, including 45·7 million with depressive disorders and 44·9 million with anxiety disorders.
Then why is it that we often find ourselves hearing phrases like “I’m so depressed I didn’t score well in my exam” or, “My mom always makes me clean my room, she’s so OCD?” The usage of terms related to mental illnesses that impact people’s lives severely can not only be demeaning for those suffering disorders but also alienating.
In an article with MensXP Dr. Hiba Siddiqui, a Senior Psycho-Oncologist at Max Healthcare said, “Words carry a lot of power to their listeners and we all have made many mistakes (regarding its usage) and continue to learn. Our word choices contribute to social stigmas that can further marginalize individuals of all backgrounds living with a variety of conditions, illnesses, and disabilities.”
SOURCE: THE TAB, UK.
Neurodevelopmental disorders are disabilities in the functioning of the brain that affect a child’s behaviour, memory, or ability to learn e.g. dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning deficits, and autism. Shreya Sharma’s younger brother was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was 8 years old, she says she often finds people using the term as an insult. “A lot of people, sometimes, even my friends casually use the term as an insult. As if it’s meant to be used as one, as if people within the spectrum don’t have a lot of diversity in terms of characteristics and symptoms and all of their struggles can be boiled down to fit into one single narrative.”
Parv was diagnosed with clinical depression when he was in 9th grade, “Often I find people using the term loosely and they start to put a disorder which has affected my life greatly into the same category as having ‘a case of the blues’. This creates misunderstanding and stigma around major depression — which too many still see as a result of weakness or laziness.”
People might believe that their words do not matter so much, but they perpetuate an attitude of ‘just get over it’ or ‘it’s no big deal’ which is how a lot of people still perceive mental illnesses. Additionally, when you are an object of ridicule, especially if you are one whose suffering is mostly invisible to those around you, then you are unlikely to come out to others as needing help – this is on top of the fact that there is already a stigma behind going to see mental health professionals.
In an article with Vice, Dr. Demjen said, “You’d never use a physical illness like cancer as a negative throwaway term to mean lazy or weak. But because mental illness is invisible to most, it enables this slip of language to happen.”
Now, what can we do to change these harmful patterns we see around us? Let’s take this as an opportunity to listen to people with mental illnesses or disabilities and break down misconceptions, and stop assigning our supposed “traits” to things that have no connection to us. Always remember, words are powerful. We have to use them constructively and thoughtfully. It isn’t about avoiding expressing yourself, it’s about ensuring you don’t undermine a serious illness that someone is suffering from.