Mental Illness, A Worldwide Epidemic: A Hindu Millennial’s Call to Action

Raashmi Krishnasamy  



Editor:  Raashmi Krishnasamy, currently a senior in Cognitive Neuroscience major at Carnegie Mellon University, is a passionate advocate for mental health, particularly within the South Asian community. She aspires to combine her knowledge of neuroscience with public health to provide more equitable access to healthcare for individuals with mental health problems. She is dedicated to preserving her Indian cultural roots through activities on and off campus. Currently, she is the Co-Director for Bhangra in the Burgh 12, a nonprofit Bhangra competition hosted by Carnegie Mellon and Pitt students to raise money for the Creative and Expressive Arts Therapy program at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

The World Health Organization’s recent report says that by 2020, depression will be the 2nd leading cause of disease; by 2030, it is set to outpace heart disease as the #1 cause of disease worldwide. An estimated 97.5 million people are suffering from mental illnesses in India alone. The incidence of depression is about one in every twenty Indians — roughly 5% of the country’s population. And it’s only getting worse. Chidren of our Bharat Maata is suffering from a serious mental health crisis.

Why is the birthplace of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness also home to about half of the global mental illness disease burden? And why hasn’t it shown signs of stopping?

The answer is simple – our attitude. We fear sharing our feelings with others. We judge and fear judgement towards individuals with mental illness. But most importantly, we fear ourselves, and fear admitting that we may actually need some help, after all. All of this fear contributes to strengthening the stigma, forcing us further and farther away from what we really need—direct confrontation. However, we’re a long way from tackling this issue face-to-face.

According to the Live Love Laugh Foundation, in a survey of 3,556 respondents from eight cities across IAndia, 47% could be categorized as being highly judgmental of people perceived as having a mental illness. Of the 47%, respondents were more likely to say that one should keep a safe distance from those who are depressed, or that interacting with a mentally ill person could affect the mental health of others. And the worst part – 26% were categorized as being afraid of the mentally ill.

But are we afraid of people with diabetes? Or hypertension? Why should we view mental illness any differently?

Like any other chronic illness, mental illnesses have both a behavioral and a physiological component. The only difference here is that instead of focusing on the heart or pancreas as in the case of heart problems and diabetes, the area of interest in mental illness is the brain.

In the mental health issues among Indians, when does it all stop? When does the fear stop and the courage begin? When do we stop being afraid and start being brave enough to confront our inner demons? How do we stop taking step backwards and start to move forward in our fight against this disease?

I offer somewhat of a trivial solution: let’s change the way we view mental illness and begin to treat it as a worldwide epidemic. The formal definition of an epidemic is the widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a given time. That is precisely what mental illness is – it’s a widespread, infectious disease, plaguing not just one community, but hundreds of thousands across the globe, right now!

The WHO suggests that reversing epidemics, is a 3 step process:

  1. Interrupt transmission
  2. Prevent future spread
  3. Change group norms

Thankfully, when it comes to mental health, we don’t have to do all these 3 things – we only have to do one; we must change group norms. But just how do we go about changing group norms?

They say that the hardest thing to do when it comes to treating a mental illness is acceptance – by the individual. But it’s bigger than that; it has to do with group [or socia]) acceptance acceptance.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna declares, “The man who sees me in everything and everything in me will not be lost to me, nor will I ever be lost to him. When he sees all beings as equal in suffering or in joy because they are like himself, that man has grown perfect in yoga.”

We must look not only look beyond ourselves, but also within ourselves. Group norms aren’t something that just change overnight. They begin with the individual. Changing the way we view ourselves will allow us to see what Krishna preaches in the Gita — we will begin to see others as being equal in suffering.

So next time you’re feeling a little down, or you hear about or see someone struggling with symptoms of mental illness, take a minute and set all the judgements aside. Rather than being afraid of yourself or that person, be brave enough to give your love and compassion. Rather than offering pity, offer support. Rather than shying away from the conversation, become an advocate. Together, we can change group norms and beat the worldwide epidemic that’s shamelessly claiming the minds of many. All we have to do is speak up and inspire others to do the same.   ♠



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