A bunch of teenagers had surrounded a meek 10-year-old at a private dinner party.
“Hey you! What is 2+2?” they asked.
“I don’t know…please go away!” he cried.
“Ah, come on! Okay, what’s 2 x 2?” they continued.
The group exploded into fits of laughter.
Every guffaw triggered a searing pain in the little boy’s heart. The noise grew louder and louder while his confidence plunged lower and lower until emotions turned to water, gushing out of his eyes, blurring everything…
But this was nothing new to him. From eating alone during recess to being the laughing stock in the classroom. From being bullied at socials to being tortured for fun. Sadistic teachers, bullying students, taunting relatives and insensitive strangers. The society did its best….in fact, very best…to break him.
His crime you ask? Being differently abled!
By the time he turned 15, the agony was too severe, the burden too heavy. Unsurprisingly, depression engulfed him.
No, this is not a figment of my imagination. This is the story of my brother.
Living with mental health problems is never easy, no matter which country you live in. But in India, the experience can be no less than a nightmare.
Access to mental healthcare is limited in the country. With only 43 government mental health hospitals to provide services for approximately over 70 million people living with psychosocial disabilities.
For every 1 million people, there are three psychiatrists, with psychologists even more scarce.
Moreover, only 25% of mental healthcare facilities are in rural areas, where the majority (up to 70%) of the population live.
Lack of awareness and social stigma attached to mental illness often forces families to commit relatives to mental health hospitals. The conditions in such facilities can be horrific. The institutions often tend to be overcrowded and unhygienic. Inmates are routinely subjected to forced treatment, including electroconvulsive therapy, as well as physical and verbal abuse.
While it is evident that care and conditions at mental health hospitals are abysmal, more than the facilities the country needs to work on changing its attitude towards mental health issues.
In rural areas, the common belief is that mental health problems are caused by evil spirits. Witch doctors are consulted and the treatment include chaining up the victim, chanting spells and poking them with pins.
Meanwhile, in urban areas, people with mental health issues are considered “inferior” or “incapable.” While the majority chooses to label them and bully them, those who don’t, choose to pity them.
Psymaps, a social media campaign, is my initiative to contribute in whatever way I can to change this attitude. Launched in 2014, Psymaps’ slogan is “spread awareness, end stigma.” I believe that the best way to eradicate stigma is to address the issue, by talking about it.
Through this platform, I want to convey the message that people living with mental health issues are NOT “disabled” or “inferior” to anyone, let alone “dumb”. They are as special and lovable as anyone else. They don’t need our sigh and sympathy, they just want our love and acceptance. They deserve dignity, not pity.
Today, my brother is on the road to recovery. He’s slowly learning to smile again and I’m confident that he will overcome it all. He’s amazing the way he is and I owe him a biiiig thank you because if it weren’t for him Psymaps would’ve never happened!
And to all those who have been stung by stigma, I want you to know that you are a beautiful human being. A gifted soul, just like my brother. Rise and shine!