A majority of population still associates mental health issues with severe disorders like schizophrenia and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Actor and founder of The Live Love Laugh Foundation, Deepika Padukone, unveiled its Landmark Report on Public Perception Towards Mental Health in India yesterday.

It covers more than 3,500 respondents across eight Indian cities, stressing the need for focused stigma-reduction programmes in mental health initiatives.

At the report’s launch, Padukone said, “This research initiative is part of our ongoing efforts to build a better understanding about mental health in our country. Our research shows that only over a quarter of the respondents are willing to be supportive in many aspects, while the remaining are either judgmental or fearful of those affected with mental illness. This is an extremely unfortunate situation for us to be in.”

“It is absolutely critical that we as a society work together towards increasing awareness, reducing stigma and normalizing the need to seek support for mental illness,” she added.

Many think mental illnesses are contagious

As per the report, 87% of respondents associate mental illness with severe disorders

The survey reveals how misinformation and ignorance have led to prevalence of myths about mental illness. About 47% of participants admitted to using the word “retard” to describe people with mental illness.

Further, 60% of respondents believe that people with mental illness “should have their own groups to avoid contaminating healthy people”. Sixty-eight per cent believe that they “should not be given any responsibility”. Sixty per cent of the respondents believe that mental illness is caused by a “lack of self-discipline and willpower”.

These statistics show that most Indians still don’t understand delicate mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. For them, mental illness is synonymous with going crazy. This is why people show inhibition when it comes to seeking professional help for mental health issues.

The report says only one in two people is likely to visit a doctor to discuss mental health

Fear of being socially outcast prevents many people from seeking help. They know a major chunk of society will start calling them “retard” or “crazy” if they mention a visit to a psychiatrist or psychologist. As a result, problems like depression, anxiety etc which can be solved by timely treatment escalate and lead to graver consequences.

Uninhibited conversation on mental health is key 

There is an urgent need to break down the stigma surrounding mental illnesses in India. We need to start talking to educate people across all socio-economic strata. That is the only way we can bring people out of their bias and inhibitions to empathise with the cause. These social notions will not go away easily, considering how deep they are. But that should not deter us from talking about them.

The conversation about what exactly is mental illness and how it is much more than symptoms like hallucinations etc, is long overdue

It is courageous of Deepika Padukone to use her stardom to tackle our reservations against mental illnesses. We can only hope that TLLLF’s efforts will motivate people to speak up. Once we are able to break the ice, it will become easier for people to seek help. Hopefully, in near future, no one would have to hang his or her head low for seeking help over mental health issues.

Also Read: Fiction and Non Fiction books that deal with Mental Health

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are author’s own.

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