As I look back, I can truly say that the last four years have been life-changing in almost every way. There have been some dark, immensely tough times. There have also been triumphs.
But without a doubt, one of my most powerful experiences has been my battle with, and recovery from depression.
Today, I know so much more about mental illness not only from my own experience, but also from meeting other survivors of mental illness, their care-givers and interacting with mental health experts. I also learn a great deal from those who lack knowledge about mental illnesses.
Just like in other countries, I’ve found that in India, too, the stigma towards those suffering from mental illnesses is extremely high. Many who suffer from depression never seek help for the fear of being branded as ‘weak’ or ‘mad’. The lack of adequate infrastructure, shortage of trained professionals and other resources further compounds the issue.
The massive need to create awareness about mental health in India and build avenues for those seeking help led to the setting up The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF) in 2015.
We decided to focus our efforts on sparking conversations on depression, anxiety and stress.
Over the last three years, TLLLF has launched several campaigns, programmes and initiatives.
You Are Not Alone, our flagship mental health awareness programme in schools was initiated to make students and teachers more aware of mental health issues, while also equipping them to better understand its symptoms. Delivered through interactive and informative sessions, this programme has grown significantly and is currently delivered in five languages and has cumulatively covered more than 60,000 students and 10,000 teachers across eight cities in two years.
Our aim in the coming months is to pilot a mental health awareness programme for parents, target new geographies and conduct the programme in more Indian languages to reach a wider audience.
Dobara Poocho (“Ask Again”), by TLLLF, was India’s first nationwide public awareness initiative on mental health and was designed to inspire people to reach out to those who could be suffering from mental health disorders. The campaign was launched in 2016 and has led to a surge in media reporting ever since.
TLLLF also supports a Rural Mental Health Programme in Davangere, Karnataka. The programme has expanded from two taluks and treating 200 patients just two years ago, to four taluks and covering more than 800 patients today.
By the end of the year, this programme would have expanded to cover at least two more taluks and impact approximately 1,000 patients. We look forward to expanding this programme to other states once we are able to identify the right partners and secure additional funding for its expansion.
Research is another important area of focus for TLLLF. While many have attempted to quantify the mental health disease burden in India, very few findings exist on how the man-on-the-street views mental health. This resulted in TLLLF’s 2018 National Survey Report: ‘How India Perceives Mental Health’.
While more than 75% of survey respondents stated they would always feel sympathetic towards sufferers, the respondents also exhibit feelings of fear (14% said they would always be fearful), hatred (28% feel hatred sometimes or always), and anger (43% feel angry sometimes or always) towards people with mental illness. More than a quarter of respondents admitted that they would always be ‘indifferent’ towards people with mental illness.
Only 27% of survey respondents indicated support for people perceived as having mental illness, while 47% indicated higher judgement and 26% indicated fear (of such people); When asked to describe a person with mental illness, 71% of people who participated in the survey used terms associated with stigma such as “retard”, “crazy/ mad/ stupid”,
The above statistics further highlight the urgent need for intervention.
India records the highest rate of suicide in the world, with victims ranging from 15 -44 years, as per the WHO.
According to the NCRB (2015), a student commits suicide every hour in India.
Together with India’s Health Ministry we need to explore ways to find a solution in capacity-building, to cater to the massive short-fall in the number of trained mental health professionals and facilities dedicated to mental health.
Curriculum in our educational institutions needs to include a component on life skills and psychological first-aid training. Coupled with these aspects, dialogue and outreach is an absolute must within our schools, colleges and universities.
Highlighting the importance of mental health by various stakeholders, political leaders and social influencers is essential. It is also critical that those in a position of influence educate themselves on mental health and avoid statements that trivialise the pain and suffering of victims of mental illness. Mental health is also one of the most under-funded sectors in India.