Indian Parents, Therapists & Stigmatization Of Mental Illness

I happen to be an empath.

Ever since I was little, people would come to me with their problems. I’d hop into their shoes and walk a mile. Maybe two. Soon enough, they began to feel like my own.

It was a strange feeling.

OK, I feel what you’re going through but how do we fix this?

And boy, we did not know. So, I did the only the thing I could do,

I listened.

Sometimes, I’d wear their shoes to bed, for days or weeks — without even realizing it.

Although what I did realize, even as a child, was one thing:

Even the strongest people can be vulnerable. Emotionally.

In desperate need of help.

At that time, I had no idea what therapists are, why do we need them, or what is “mental health” exactly?

When I was thirteen, one of my friends was going through domestic abuse. Her Dad, an accomplished doctor, used to beat her up once she found out about his extra-marital affairs.

Another classmate, was planning to elope with her boyfriend, after she was convinced ‘he was the one’ and her parents ‘will never understand’.

Later, I became friends with someone who would laugh with me, at me, all day. I didn’t mind. She was a delight. We fooled around a lot until I noticed the cuts she had, neatly hidden, under her full-sleeved shirts. Harming herself?

It was a lot to process. I used to think about it all day.

What can I do for them? How do I make it stop?

Where are the adults, parents, someone?

Do they know? Should I tell them? But she said they will never understand.

Why will they never understand?

Who will understand?

I blamed the adults back then, I wouldn’t do that anymore. I’ve realized parents aren’t superhumans with capes. They’re just like us.

In fact, I’d go as far as saying, a lot of them are going through mental health related issues, without even realizing it. They call it ‘life’ and accept it.

And, that’s how they expect their children to behave.

One of my clinically depressed friends, will later tell me, “I tried to tell them, they saw me struggle but… they refused to understand it or maybe they were in denial. I will never know, we just don’t talk about it.”

I understood. But.

Why don’t we talk about it?

What is it about mental health that scares our parents?

Five phases in which an average Indian parent reacts to ‘therapy’:


“Oh, c’mon. It’s probably just a little stress. Get some rest. You think too much.”

“Eat healthy food. Go for a jog. Stay fit.”

“Learn to be strong.”


“Do you even know most people in our country don’t have the money to get medicines for real diseases. Malaria, Dengue, this is what diseases are.”

“In our times, we didn’t need any therapy. Our family was our strength. Moreover, we had to save money for grave medical emergencies.”


“Therapy is only for the West.”

“Privileged white people who run out of problems, simply create them.”

“We can sympathize with them. They live alone and their culture doesn’t promote the idea of a ‘unified society’. You have us and if we aren’t enough, pick up the phone and call your (hundred) relatives. Everyone adores you!”

“And oh, don’t forget the divorce rates in the West. Poor kids, so many Mums and Dads. Obviously they need therapy to cope-up.”


“Surely, you can’t walk around trusting a stranger! Oh, don’t teach us about laws. You know how it works in this country.”

“They don’t know you like we do, anyway. We are …your parents! Why don’t you tell us, for once?

Oh, but we did.


The You-Know-Who of India —our sweetheart, judgemental, society. The infamous Chaar Log, I’ve never actually met. (Chaar Log: Self-proclaimed Board Members of the Indian Society)

“What will we say to people if they find out.”

“Why is our child seeing a brain doctor?”

“What if they ask if you belong in a mental asylum?”

…And the list goes on.

Let’s talk numbers.

According to the 2011 Census, more than 7.22 lakh people across the country were suffering from “mental illness”, while over 15 lakh were “mentally retarded”.

There are only 898 psychologists against 20,250 required in the country and less than 900 psychiatric social workers against the 37,000 needed.

These statistics were alarming and frankly, pretty vague.

Are they talking about rural areas or urban or both?

Was the mix of interviewees perfectly balanced?

We don’t know.

So, the Government of India commissioned NMHS Bengaluru, to conduct a carefully planned, nationwide research, on the country’s mental health, with a team of 125 investigators, across 12 different states.

Number of meetings conducted by trained field-officers across the country

These interviews revealed that nearly 150 million Indians are in need of immediate intervention.

The state of mental health is worse in Urban Metro cities.

With continuing urbanisation, the burden is expected to rise and hence, there is a need for an urban specific mental health programme.

In all their statistics, Urban Metro areas topped most charts.

Rural urban differentials in prevalence of mental disorders (%)

1 of every 20 people in India suffers from depression.

High suicidal risk is an increasing concern.

Children and young adults are vulnerable to mental disorders.

Prevalence of mental disorders (%) in 13–17 years by age and residence

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mental illness is invisible. We don’t see it but it’s slowly feasting upon our country, on the inside. Crippling it.

We need to take action. Get help.

But how?

People with mental disorders continue to be stigmatized.

Nearly 80% of people suffering from mental disorders, had not received any treatment despite the presence of illness for more than 12 months.

Can you imagine going without treatment for 12 months for something like the flu?

What if we started treating physical illness like mental illness?


Oh boy.

Sounds pretty stupid, right?

Five months ago, my late best friend, said to me “Artika, my dream is to make enough money to afford a therapist. I can’t, right now. My parents will get worried. But, I hope one day, I’ll have that privilege.”

That privilege, she’d said.

Why is it a privilege?

I wish no one in this country had to think twice before getting help.

Before succumbing to their illness.

I wish no one had to pretend to be okay. Let’s ask ourselves.

Who are we pretending for?

It’s okay to not be happy, all the time.

You can’t always see your illness.

But, it sees you.

Your work. Your dreams. Your marriage. Your family members. Everything.

We can’t lie to ourselves, shy away, and let it win.

It’s time we lock eyes with it and fight!

Truly fight.

People person. I write for the world to see some issues I do — with the same intensity. It’s a long battle but I’m armed with pens and books. Let’s do this.

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