Dressed in a white and black outfit, actor Deepika Padukone (pictured) unveiled the findings of the report “How India Perceives Mental Health” at ITC Maurya on Friday.
The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF) which was created by Deepika Padukone in 2015 to champion the cause of mental health in India covered the response of more than 3500 subjects across eight Indian cities and was published recently.
The report revealed startling public perception on mental health in the country and the high prevalence of stigma, as 47 percent of the people used the word “retard” to describe people with mental illness, 60 per cent believed that those with mental illness “should have their own groups to avoid contaminating healthy people” and 68 per cent believed that they “should not be given any responsibility”.
Padukone pointed out that coming out about her battle with depression helped in her journey. “I do not live with any sort of burden today. I have not hidden anything from anybody. If I ever have a breakdown somewhere, I’m not afraid of being judged. Somewhere I feel I have helped other people overcome and maybe understand what they did not understand, even if they were suffering. This was the intention of speaking about it in the first place,” she said.
As part of the panel discussion, Dr Soumitra Pathare, consultant psychiatrist and director of Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy, Indian Law Society, Pune, stressed on increasing contact with those suffering from mental illness and the need to see them being out there and successful.
He said, “In the UK, actor/comedian Ruby Wax talked about mental illness on national television, which did more to reduce stigma than a lot of campaigns. Alastair Campbell, who was the advisor to the UK PM, came out and talked about his depression and so did English actor Stephen Fry.”
Siddhartha Swarup, who handles the behavior change portfolio at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said, “The kind of terms being used are paagal, crazy or mad. As a result, sufferers feel that people will judge them if they have any kind of mental illness. That causes self-stigma and then people don’t seek treatment.” Swarup stressed on how the language needs to change from something that people fear to what they understand.
“English Vinglish dealt with the idea of a woman who was depressed and had no self-esteem. And then the makers turned it around in a way that it was not something to be scared of. Piku was about bowel movement but really dealt with a very serious problem in India — elderly care. It switched the idea from being perceived as a burden to a happy journey,” said Swarup, who added that this is the kind of narrative shift needed in popular culture.
Highlighting the country’s impending mental health crisis, psychiatrist Dr Shyam Bhat, Trustee of TLLLF, who helped Padukone deal with the crisis, said that the current Indian society is at the cusp of a huge social change. “There is the collapse of the joint family and emergence of the nuclear family, resulting in more isolated people. Increasing aspirations have led to increasing dissatisfaction. The advent of social media has led to comparisons. Add to this an imbalanced work-life situation where people spend more time on working and less time on rest. There are also changing eating habits with consumption of more processed food. Sleep deprivation and even pollution, contribute to depression. Then there’s decreased contact with nature and sunlight,” said Bhat, who added that things would only get worse if everyone didn’t begin treating it at entry level.