A conversation on a social media page about how Mental Health is not a priority in the medical, government, education & individual space - brought many flashbacks and observations of the last couple years to me.
I speak from personal experience. Therefore, all that I write comes from where I am and how I see it. It may or may not be true for all.
Looking back, I now feel, in some sense it was fairly easy to get into therapy for me (considering the odds that are there).
I hit crisis - big enough for me to feel lost, lonely and helpless. I asked friends for help and thankfully I was given a therapist's number. Even more lucky was the fact that we hit it - not from the word go but pretty much in a couple of sessions I knew I could work with her and she agreed to work with me.
That was the easy part. The hardest part was staying in the process. The first time I went to a therapist I didn't tell anyone but my then boyfriend.
His response was - 'am I not enough that you have to go a therapist?'
Then came Ma - who was very (to the power of infinity) agitated to know that I am going 'outside' to a stranger to talk about what's happening at home.
In the last 3 years of my journey in therapy, the amount of times I have been told that
'I am being brainwashed', 'I am thinking too much', 'reading too much into stuff ' is more than I have lines on my fingers - all ten of them!
All of this came from the people I know, love & who are/were in my inner circle.
I don't write this to belittle anyone. I write to this to describe how it is for a particular person to be on a side where they are trying to help themselves and trying to find ways to live a better life.
I also write this to share the experience of what they might receive from other corners.
Moving on, for me, taking care of one's mental health means that an individual chooses to understand
- Who one is ?
- Why does one keep getting into certain patterned loops of behavior even when one knows it is unhealthy?
- Why can't one stop?
- To understand if there any tools, thought level, feeling level changes one may need to be incorporate to actually make their lives better?
- If yes what are those and how can one do it?
When an individual starts noticing these patterns and initiates changes - in one's beliefs, values, thought process, language, behavior & sometimes even stops engaging with some kinds of people / occupations that they used to - it causes a lot of difficulty.
For the individual definitely but also for people around that particular individual.
For example - Alcoholics would never like a good alcoholic partner/friend to change into a sober person likewise since all of us function through patterns it causes discomfort when one person chooses to be conscious and also points out our patterns to us.
The conversation on mental health is even more difficult because we as a society do not quite believe in CONVERSATIONS perse.
In my experience I have heard the sentences noted below from other people when I have posed a different opinion :
1) Do you know who you are talking to?
2) I am so and so years older than you, of course I know more.
3) I am your Dad/ Mom/ Boyfriend / Boss /In - laws/ Elder sister /Brother / Neighbor Uncle, please show some respect.
4) We have done so much for you. Do you have no consideration for that? How can you talk to us like that?
5) Since you can't show me respect, I can't talk to you.
6) I have more experience than you do - you have achieved nothing so don't talk like you do.
7) Oh! Now you are a know it all.
8) You are difficult to talk to.
9) You are making it impossible to talk to you.
10) You don't make sense to me.
Even some people may go to the extent of
- Making the person feel abandoned by not talking to them for days.
- Leaving the relationship altogether.
- Taking away privileges
- In certain cases - mental or physical abuse can also take place.
These are just examples of how people in our culture are used to :
- make one feel 'less than', 'small', 'not enough'
the other on the basis of :
~ economic status
~ social norms etc.
to keep fulfilling one's needs over other's existence.
As a society how can we talk about mental when we on a larger scale we still fight over religion, don't talk at all about casteism ,classism, sexism, sexual health - abuse, physical abuse.
When power plays are prominent in every household, school and office, when the behaviors stated above are normalized at each and every moment - how many people can be asked to dare all these odds and actually fight for themselves?
We are far far away from that day when talking about Mental Health and mental health related diseases can be obvious and easy.
What though , I think could help, is to introduce the idea in a broader space by having meaningful CONVERSATIONS about it.
REAL CONVERSATIONS - where people feel heard, where they can talk about their fears, when they can feel that there are many more like them who are going through the same difficulty and that they just need to keep hanging in there.
At a structural level - for example in schools we need counselors not one but many, we need curriculum that allow space to breath, play and 'be', we need a curriculum that is customized according to the needs of the children, we need teachers who are empathetic, we need to work on the student teacher ratio in class, we need good infrastructure, we need more people in the organizational space in the school so that the teachers ONLY TEACH and the list goes on.
In a country of a 130 crore people we need more counselors - we need more public colleges with affordable education to enable young people to become counselors, we need to give them more job security and good policies in place so that their health and safety is taken care of.
The task is a huge one - the loss of not taking the task seriously is also huge and grave.
The choice is definitely ours.
The next time a young/different person of any gender, caste, class, color, who has less said power than you, comes to you and chooses to disagree with your opinion - observe your reaction. You will know on which side of the table you are.