When I was growing up and needed to visit a psychologist to treat my anxiety and OCD, I was accompanied by my mother – and an affable uncle who’d come to stay with us for a week and who was (for all intents and purposes) an acutely understanding man. When we reached the clinic and I queued up eagerly to register, the uncle, visibly uncomfortable at this point, looked around at the dozens of people waiting, shifted his weight from one foot to another and then whispered in my ear – “So, they’re all mad, then?”
Disregard for a moment the complete sense of incredulity that washes over you at this point. Or the difference he so easily drew up between the queue of apparently ‘mad’ folk and his own niece (waiting in the same queue for a consult).
The sad fact is, he is only one among an overwhelming population who still believe mental illness is taboo, that the people who treat it are quacks and that admission of any sort of mental illness is the first sign you should check your guts at the door.
Yes, people are stupid. Why else would they create a world of falsehoods that effectively stop you from reaching for help?
We spoke to a number of prominent psychiatrists and psychologists across the country to debunk myths and misconceptions about mental health.
Hopefully, you’ll listen.
1. Asking For Help Will Mean I’m ‘Weak’
Dr Kamna Chibber, Clinical Psychologist and Head of Mental Health, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Science, Fortis La Femme, New DelhiThis is the biggest problem mental health professionals face. See, earlier, people lived in a large family set-up within which you could always reach out for support. However, things have changed; people are on their own far more and might need help. You need to understand that reaching out is NOT a sign of weakness; rather, it is a sign of strength – you are acknowledging that there is something you’re not able to deal with, and that takes guts.Dr Seema Hingorrany, Clinical Psychologist and Trauma Expert, MumbaiThe brain is an organ attached to the body. Think of depression, for instance, as a fracture in that brain, in the thoughts you have. Now, if you have a fracture in your hand or your leg, you can see it – and treat it, right? Why should you be ashamed of treating this fracture, then? Simply because you can’t see it?
2. Mental Health Professionals Apply the Same Rules to Everybody
Prachi Jain, Psychologist and Counsellor, KolkataSee, there are many theories and therapies that mental health experts are trained in. If CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) works for one patient, REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) might work for another – psychoanalysis for someone else. Every patient’s problem is unique.Dr Kamna ChibberThe idea is to understand YOU as an individual. We listen to your problems as specific to you, and as no other person’s.
3. A Person Who Doesn’t Know Me Will Judge Me
Dr Kamna ChibberWhy do you meet a third person (outside of your daily interactions) anyway? Because you know that the person doesn’t know you and will, therefore, have no biases against you. Isn’t that a good thing? Understand that we receive training to be completely non-judgemental in our therapy rooms.Prachi JainSince I don’t know you, I have no pre-conceived notions. And yes, we can still be empathetic towards you without knowing you. How does a doctor treat a physical illness? He/she is concerned about your suffering and wants to see you get better. This is no different.
4. The Mentally Ill Never Recover
Dr Sunil Mittal, Senior Psychiatrist and Director, CIMBS, New DelhiYou must realise that psychiatric disorders include a wide spectrum of disorders including right from addictions, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, to name a few. These are caused by multiple factors that interact and result in the precipitation of symptoms, including neuro-chemical changes in the brain as well as psychosocial stressors. Therefore, with the right treatment, it is possible to control symptoms, achieve recovery as well as improve quality of life.Dr Seema HingorranyEVERYBODY has issues – big or small. There is a part that is fully functional in each of us, and a part that isn’t. I’ve had clients who come and see me twice every week, then once a month, then many months hence – until ultimately they become capable of dealing on their own. That is the goal.
5. They Give You Pills You Can’t Trust
Dr Kamna ChibberWhat if you had a thyroid problem? Wouldn’t you go to a doctor for pills? And if you did, how much would you know about those pills? You don’t think twice about taking medicines for a ‘physically tangible’ illness – because those aren’t marginalised illnesses, like a mental disorder is.Prachi JainThere are some people who don’t need pills, and some people who do. Sometimes, just therapy does not help. I understand the initial suspicion, but you need to be able to trust your doctor.Dr Seema HingorranyI’d rather a person take medicines than lose their life.