Communication is key to fighting mental health

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Communication is key to fighting mental health

Monday, 19 June 2023 | Moitrayee Das | Cherish Mundhra

Communication is necessary for healing or even seeking help, whether the communication is with self or surrounding people

Mental health is often stigmatized, and many people are reluctant to speak up about their mental distress due to the fear of judgment and shame. On 6th June, Shahid Kapoor in an interview with 'Humans of Bombay' said, “living a slightly schizophrenic reality until I met my wife.” One can only imagine how problematic that statement is on its own. The colloquial use of mental illness to explain one’s life events further reinforces the stigma already strongly associated with mental health in a country like ours.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 2021, the stigma attached to mental health reduces the chances of someone reaching out for help. Stigma against people specifically with substance use disorders is hard to deal with as people continue to see such disorders as character flaws which leads to a treatment-averse mindset even among physicians and healthcare providers (Volkow et al., 2021).

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the prevalence of mental health conditions in India is alarming according to the WHO report of 2017. Their findings conclude that India is the most depressed country in the world with over 56 million people suffering from depression and 38 million from anxiety disorders (World Health Organization, 2017). Strangely enough, even with such statistics, mental illness remains taboo, with many people still believing that mental illnesses are a myth or a sign of weakness and can be overcome with time, exercise and willpower.

There has been a disturbing trend of casually using mental health-related words colloquially. Phrases like “I’m so depressed”, “you are being bipolar about it”, or “She’s gone psycho”, amongst many others, have found a commonplace in our language. Media and its various platforms play a significant role in shaping and influencing everyday language patterns and trends. Unfortunately, instances of the colloquialism of mental health can be seen being promoted by every day news articles, affluent people and celebrities. Such statements mitigate the severity of such disorders and overlook the distressing impact on individuals who genuinely suffer from them. It is extremely crucial to recognize these and sensitize people correctly, as they create and set harmful stereotypes. We as a society fail to understand how such language perpetuates narratives that further affect those suffering from it.

Van Beveren et al. 2020. conducted a study across 6 European countries to investigate how mental health problems are portrayed in print media. They concluded that mental health consistently relied on specific groups of terms. The most prominent words observed in the data were: ‘mental illness as dangerous’, ‘mental wellbeing as a matter of lifestyle’, ‘experiencing mental health problems as a unique story’, and ‘mental illness as socially situated’.

Language is a very important tool in shaping and upholding our thoughts and ideas. When discussing mental health the need for responsible language is highlighted frequently in several studies. Derogatory terms and casual language regarding mental health can increase discrimination against individuals with mental illnesses (Clement et al., 2015). The colloquial use of terms like “OCD”, Bipolar”, “Anxiety” or “Depression” tends to associate negative behaviour rather than clinical definitions. This leads to a biased perception of when individuals receive diagnoses related to these disorders.

It is funny to see how depression is referred to as the “common cold” of mental disorders. Only if people truly cared to understand the life-threatening effect of depression, would it do all of us some good. In India, Bollywood has a significant impact on people. People are always awed by the luxurious lifestyles of the celebrities. Netherland and Coliver (2018) explored through a study the effects of stars disclosing their mental health struggles and journey on public attitudes and concluded that such disclosures reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking behaviour.

It was truly wonderful to see Deepika Padukone openly speak about her struggle with depression as well as promote her mental health foundation, LiveLoveLaugh since it was founded in 2015. But at the same time, what happens when Shahid Kapoor says he lived a schizophrenic reality. Such offhand statements and casual usage of mental health conditions by celebrities risk oversimplifying and distorting the reality of these conditions. It could potentially lead to misunderstanding and discourage help-seeking behaviour. Mental health conditions should not be equated with personality quirks or individual preferences, and that can only happen when mental health education is imparted to children right from school.

(Moitrayee Das is Assistant Professor of Psychology at FLAME University, Pune and Cherish Mundhra is pursuing a master's in Clinical Psychology)

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