THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that India is the country with the highest prevalent rates of depression in the world. Over 56million people suffer from depression and an additional 38million suffer from anxiety-related disorders.

These numbers have deep implications and make it very likely that someone you know is suffering from a depressive or anxiety-related mental illness.

Apart from the fact that access to mental healthcare is limited, there is a cultural aspect as to why we, as Indians, may be more hesitant to seek therapy.

The benefits of having a familial support system while dealing with mental illnesses cannot be overstated. However, there is a possibility that excessive reliance on the interdependent/collectivist framework of Indian families without the knowledge or awareness of mental health can have a negative impact.

Reasons why Indians may be hesitant to seek therapy

  • Because mental health is misunderstood, the family views mental illness among its members as something that stains the family’s reputation or dignity. Due to this, added to the heavy stigma attached to mental illness, an individual hesitates to seek outside help, as he/she may be viewed as ‘weak’ or ‘fundamentally flawed.
  • Most problems are attributed to individual behaviour or outside interference. For example, someone suffering from depression may lose interest in their day-to-day activities, marriage or other commitments. A lack of discipline or familial ‘values’ and ‘ideals’ are attributed to this so-called ‘bad behaviour’.
  • Another example is that an excessive belief in concepts like ‘Karma’ leads people to believe – especially among the rural population – that mental illness is an individual’s way of atonement for past ‘sins’ or ‘misdeeds’. In some places, people suffering from mental illness are often looked at as being possessed or evil, and spiritual advisers, folk doctors and the elders in the family are often sought for ‘treatment’ instead of medical intervention.

Although religion is not to be blamed here, deep-rooted religious beliefs and lack of awareness and information on mental illness prevent Indians from seeking clinical help or therapy.

  • Since there is a culture of interdependence, the role of parents or adults in the family is not limited to providing education and a home until the age of 18, like in the west. Parents play the role of guides and advisers to their children and other youngsters within the family even in their adult life. There is a possibility that parents feel insecure and inadequate if their children seek help outside since traditionally, older family members are always consulted in decision-making and problem-solving. Mental health is no exception to this. Therefore, the need for expertise and specialised intervention to effectively tackle depression or anxiety is discounted.
  • A lack of awareness leads people to believe that depression and anxiety can be resolved with the right kind of advice and guidance from adults within the family. This is because it does not always manifest with frenzied symptoms.

Diagnosis, treatment and management of depression and anxiety require clinical intervention, along with family support. Cultural norms need to be broken sometimes in order to ensure the individual receives the help they need.

This article was originally published in The Live Love Laugh Foundation blog. 

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