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The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Support in India


In recent years, mental health discourse has gained momentum globally, emphasising seeking help when needed. However, in India, a pervasive stigma still surrounds the idea of seeking support from mental health professionals, colloquially referred to as “shrinks.” This reluctance to embrace mental health services is deeply rooted in cultural, societal, and historical factors that contribute to a complex tapestry of attitudes toward mental well-being.

Why do Indians shrink at the idea of getting support from a shrink?

India is rich in cultural diversity, with a tapestry of traditions, languages, and belief systems. Unfortunately, discussions around mental health has often been overlooked or misunderstood, leading to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. Traditional cultural norms often emphasise resilience, self-reliance, and family support, which can unintentionally discourage individuals from seeking external help. In the early days of the joint family system, aunts and close cousins would be unconditionally available to play the role of a shrink; in other words, the closest, darkest of secrets could be shared with them without feeling judged. It was a natural way of being in the family.  “Now, with the nuclear family set-up and the rise of social media, loneliness has become tough for all age groups; hence, the need for therapists or psychologists has risen, a place to dump your feelings without getting judged and come out with unbiased suggestions or perspectives,” says Dr Seema Rekha, psychologist and founder Antarmanh Consulting that recently celebrated its decade of glorious success by launching an app for reaching out to people requiring a helping hand for their mental well being.

Stigma and Misconceptions

One of the primary reasons people in India shy away from mental health support is the persistent stigma attached to mental illnesses. “Societal misconceptions often portray seeking help for psychological issues as a sign of weakness or instability, leading individuals to fear judgment from their communities. The fear of being labelled as “crazy” or “unstable” can act as a powerful deterrent, preventing people from seeking the professional help they need,” she adds.

Reliance on Alternative Healing Practices

India has a long history of alternative healing practices, including yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda. While these practices undoubtedly offer numerous benefits for mental well-being, they should not be seen as exclusive alternatives to professional mental health care. The perception that traditional methods alone can address all mental health concerns contributes to the resistance towards seeking support from mental health professionals.

Lack of Awareness and Education

Mental health literacy remains a significant challenge in India. Many individuals lack a basic understanding of common mental health conditions and may not recognise the signs and symptoms in themselves or others. This lack of awareness can lead to delays in seeking help or even denial of the existence of mental health issues.

Economic Factors

In India, economic factors also play a role in shaping attitudes toward mental health support. Limited access to affordable mental health services, particularly in rural areas, can be a barrier for those who might otherwise seek assistance. Additionally, the perception that mental health services are a luxury rather than a necessity can dissuade individuals from prioritising their mental well-being.

Overcoming the Stigma

Addressing the stigma surrounding mental health in India requires a multi-faceted approach. First and foremost, education and awareness campaigns must be implemented to dispel myths and misconceptions about mental health. Promoting open conversations about mental well-being within families, schools, and communities can provide a more supportive environment.

Furthermore, integrating mental health education into school curricula, training healthcare professionals to address mental health issues, and expanding affordable mental health services can help bridge the gap between those in need and the available resources.

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