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  • Writer's picturegauri nadkarni choudhary

The Shadow under the lamp.

While I brighten the whole world with my light

They forget that I am burning

All they can see is the light

No one sees the darkness within me.

A famous singer ends his life. A leading actress suffers from depression at the peak of her career. A budding model battles addiction. A beloved princess suffers from eating disorder.

Famous people….fame, fortune, money, adoration, stars ….they have everything one can dream of. Why then do they suffer? Why then do they decide that their life is not worth living? A layman’s instant question “uski life mein kya problem ho sakti hai?” (What problems can he/she have in their life)? And these layman are not children or uneducated people. Unfortunately they are doctors, lawyers and highly educated professionals.

But no one questions when a star is affected by swine flu or a president suffering from memory problems.

This just goes on to show how little we know about life and about problems and more importantly about mental health and mind.

Ancient philosophers, religious scholars, doctors and sages have all talked about the mind. A powerful mind is said to be your greatest asset. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it”. How many times have we heard this or said this?

We all read books about the mind, about training your mind, about making it strong etc. etc.? But how many of us actually give a thought to this mind?

So where is this mind? In your heart? Your soul? Your brain? Maybe in a combination of all three. I don’t know where it is but I do know that it exist within all of us. It is a part of our system our body. And like all other body parts it can fall sick. And it can fall sick for no apparent reason.

Let’s say I have a cold. A horrible cold with blocked sinuses and body aches etc. I am too sick to get out of bed and go to work. My throat hurts so I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to eat and I can’t sleep. Even after the obvious symptoms are better I still have weakness and need rest. Sounds familiar? Sounds acceptable?

No one asked me how I fell sick? Nobody blamed me for not having a strong immune system. No one made fun of me for letting the virus overwhelm me. No one taunted me about having a supporting family, bank balance and all the luxuries and yet getting a cold. No one laughed at me for wanting to go to a doctor.

Neither did anyone tell me that it was all in my mind. That I would stop coughing my lungs out if I just put my mind to it. Nobody scolded me that I was not trying hard enough to hold back my sneezes.

Then why do I hear this when I tell someone that I am depressed? Then why is my mind not as important as my body? Why is it that my body is allowed to fall sick but not my mind? If I can’t have control over the immunity of my body why is it expected that I have control over the immunity of my mind?

Mental health is very much a concern. Not just today since the evolution. It is not a new thing or an illness of the modern world as we like to believe. Historians would tell you about the existence of many people with mental illnesses. Unfortunately they were not recognised as of being mental illnesses. Mental illness is surrounded by a lot of myths

  • Mental illness is only ‘mental’ in nature: Mind is part of the body. What effects the mind effects the body too. We all have experienced headaches before an interview and stomach upset before the dreaded maths paper. Stress affects the body in many ways. From increasing out heart beats to releasing stress hormones to reducing immunity. Stress can worsen the existing illness or even delay the process of recovery. There are some symptoms which just don’t seem to go away despite all the physicians’ efforts. There are pains which persist even when all physical examinations are normal. Why? Simply because we over looked the mind.

  • The ‘strong willed’ don’t get mental illness: How exactly would you measure the strength of will? And if will power was enough to control illness next time try curing a fracture with will power. Just tell your body that my bones are re-joining and see if miraculously the x-rays are normal. No mental illness is caused by the lack of will power alone and nor can it be treated by only will power. Yes will power to get better helps. But then that helps with body ailments too.

  • People with a lot of problems or serious life issues get mental illness: Again, how do you define ‘a lot’ or more importantly what would you call problem. The definition and the extent of problem differs from person to person. Having no money and a lot of money are both problems. Being unmarried and being married can both cause stress. Just because a person’s life looks ideal to you does not mean it is. The life of a star may look perfect to all of us but they all battle with several issues. The load of expectations, loneliness, betrayal and uncertainty are just a few.

  • Mental illness affects people of certain class: Mental illness is truly a liberal. It does not care about your bank balance, caste, class or religion. Anyone can suffer from mental illness from the CEO of the company to the peon of that company. Money, the security of a job, comforts and luxuries do not prevent mental illness.

Mental illness is like any other illness. It needs treatment, it needs acceptance and it needs support.

But before that it needs to be acknowledged as an illness.

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