mental illness

Mental illness: Still a Taboo in 21st Century India

Mental illness is a wide range of brain-based condition that affects thinking, emotions and behaviour. Mental illness is otherwise known as a mental disorder, psychiatric disorder or mental health condition.

This disorder is characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions or behaviours. There are several kinds of mental disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder etc. Depression is the most widespread mental illness, with approximately 264 million people affected. Depression is the main factor contributing to disabilities worldwide.

mental illness

Several contributing factors lead to mental illness including stress, genetics, nutrition, perinatal infections, exposure to environmental hazards, social, cultural, economic, political, living or working conditions.

Its symptoms include confused thinking, feelings of extreme highs and lows, excessive fears, social withdrawal, hallucinations, anxiety, dramatic changes in eating or sleeping, intense feelings of anger, substance use, growing inability to cope with daily problems, suicidal thoughts, excessive complaints, extreme fear, prolonged negative mood. 10 % of the adult population suffer from mental and behavioural disorders.

The average percentage of people suffering will not deplete if relentless stereotypes are eliminated. There are gazillions of taboos which have influenced the people of India. Considering mental illness to be peculiar is one of the most pronounced taboos in India. Some people even believe that mental disorders are not curable.

One-third of the population stated that they are not comfortable talking to a person recovered from any mental illness. The people who have mental illness are not well understood and are often ignored.

Various myths related to the cause of mental illness are still intact. Bad parenting, air pollution, loss of semen, low diet, past sin, the curse of god, evil eye are some of the most misleading myths. In some rural areas, supernatural agents are considered to be the causative factor of mental disorders. People tend to refuse any medical reasons. A large number of people have a blind belief that pooja or prayers can cure or reduce the harmful effects of mental illness. The psychiatrist is considered to be eccentric. This kind of erroneous beliefs prevents patients from coming forward to seek medical or psychological help.

Misconceptions like viewing people with mental disorders to be lazy, worthless, unintelligent, stupid, violent, recipient of divine punishment, unreliable, incompetent to marry, irresponsible, possessed by demons are still significantly dominant in the society. These misconceptions unquestionably tend to affect the mentally ill people, who are ashamed and prevent from seeking help.

People who have mental illness frequently suffer from unfair behaviour from society. Reportedly they face discrimination to essential services, health insurance and housing, unfair opportunities, denial of employment, sexual, physical, physiological abuses.

Some have even experienced a violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms. They are often ignored and isolated rather than being sympathized.

Many people are reported to be treated inappropriately, methods like treatments involving faith healers where the patient is treated with blind and arcane rituals rather than proper medication.

These prevalent taboos are taking a detrimental turn, which is causing more deterioration of the mental conditions of the people suffering. There is an urgent need for eliminating those taboos from society, to prevent further negative consequences.

Specifically, the COVID 19 lockdown scenario has lead to a comparative increase in cases.

How can you help people suffering from Mental Illness?

There are many effective ways to calm down the situation and help the sufferers.

  1. The first step is being self-aware about the symptoms and consequences of the respective mental illness. If you detect or find any person you know suffering from the same, try to initiate a conversation and make them comfortable.
  2. Try to listen to compassionately without any judgments or restrictions. Take a step ahead rather than criticizing or blaming. Any denial or disapproval can most probably worsen the situation. Providing emotional support may help them to recover. Please encourage them to go through suitable treatments.
  3. Currently, there are several options like psychotherapy or talk therapy, prescribed medications like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and mood-stabilizing drugs, brain stimulation treatments etc.
  4. Reassurance also plays a vital role in the process. Providing comfort and encouragement can make a significant impact.


The most indispensable aspect is the eradication of stereotypes and taboos. The society needs to normalize and accept the mentally ill and be more sympathetic towards them.

Providing necessary help and encouraging the affected can make a positive change. The government should introduce more comprehensive community-based programs on psychological issues to create awareness among the people.

Everyone deserves to live with respect without being discriminated irrespective of their physical or mental condition. All the citizens are entitled to fundamental rights.

The stigma and stereotypes are more harmful than the mental illness itself. United efforts can indeed eliminate the taboos one day.


Ruchi Pragyan Mohanty

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