Mental health is a heavy word. It holds a lot of power today especially with more and more people speaking up and getting the help they need to create an environment where their mental health thrives.
Even though we are moving towards a society where talking about mental health issues is becoming less of a taboo, we still have a long way to go before it is as socially accepted as much as physical health issues.
The National Mental Health Survey (NMHS), 2015-16 found that nearly 80% of those suffering from mental disorders did not receive treatment for over a year. The stigma associated with mental health as well as lack of access, affordability, and awareness leads to significant gaps in treatment.
So, to put some more light on the mental health issues that women in today’s society face, we spoke to three women who are trying to be productive members of society while dealing with a mental health disorder. We talked to them about their diagnosis, their journey, the importance of having a support system, practices that helped and even the struggles of misdiagnosis.
Noor, Borderline Personality Disorder: “I would scream at my parents and in the next minute be overwhelmed with guilt.”
As per the National Institute of Mental Health: Borderline personality disorder is an illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behaviour. These symptoms often result in impulsive actions and problems in relationships. People with borderline personality disorder may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that can last from a few hours to days.
Post a break-up in 2017, I went into a depressive state but it was in early 2020 when I noticed a change in my behaviour after moving back home. I would have an intense reaction to situations. Given that I had always been a calm and collected person but this time around I was feeling anger and having outbursts.
After not feeling like myself for a while and speaking to my cousin about it, I decided to talk to an expert. During my sessions, I was diagnosed with second stage bipolar disorder and after six months of therapy for the same where I was dedicated to recovering, my condition was not improving.
During my research into my disorder, the results made me sceptical of my diagnosis which is when I reached out to another psychiatrist, who corrected the diagnosis to borderline personality disorder (BPD). This made me realise how similar bipolar and BPD can seem and it takes time and effort to actually correctly diagnose these diseases. Post the correct diagnosis, the medication was altered and I reduced the frequency of therapy.
Now, I keep a notebook by my side to write down my triggers and figure out a way to use non-accusatory language. I would use the notebook to keep my emotions in check while also taking medication to help me sleep.
I dedicated myself to becoming my former self. I think that I am a huge advocate of journaling because it helps you pen down all your thoughts and clear your head for new positive thoughts. I write down my mistakes and then also write down the solutions to those as well to help me get through my triggers.
When you realise that you have a mental health issue, it is not easy to communicate with it the people around you. Especially in a conservative society like India, even if your parents understand, they will make sure that it stays within the family. I myself haven’t told my parents about my diagnosis, while I do see a change in behaviour, they have never made an effort to know more.
You need a strong support system for sure. You need people who understand you but at the end of the day, you have to rely on yourself to get better. It is normal to have a mental health issue but the earlier you realise and get help, it will be better. Don’t hesitate to open up and talk about it with people you trust before you go out and seek professional help. Just going to therapy is not enough, put in the effort you deserve both mentally & physically.
Bincy, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): “OCD as a term was generalised that it made it very hard for me to reach by diagnosis.”
As per the National Institute of Mental Health: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviours (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.
I started noticing things when I was in standard 4th but even after that realisation, it took a while for me to actually go to a specialist and get a diagnosis. I was fully aware of my issues by standard 11th because growing up I had seen my brother struggle with OCD as well. My official diagnosis happened when I was in college and that’s when I started medication and therapy.
As a child, I would touch a door or window 3 times or walk one step forward, then one step back. This behaviour seemed normal to me because I had seen my brother do the same. Initially, I thought that I was just copying him as most young siblings do. The awareness came when he was diagnosed with OCD and we realised that neither of our behaviour was normal.
When you are younger OCD comes out as hyperactivity and perfectionism but that fades out as you get to higher grades. Hyperactivity turns into depression and perfection turns into anxiety.
I decided to go to therapy while in college because I was falling behind on a course that I actually liked and enjoyed. I went in for depression and anxiety but I was made aware that I actually suffered from OCD which can often come out as the other two.
My OCD lies between moderate to severe and it is something that hinders my daily life. With me being in the design industry, I was doing one project over and over again which was holding me back.
After going to therapy in 2019 for a few months for depression, we were not seeing any progress. This is when I went to a psychiatrist and started taking medication for OCD. I have stopped taking them now after two years due to the side effects and the adverse effect it was having on my daily life.
My support system is made up mostly of my brother and a few friends who are aware of the things I go through. My parents are aware of my diagnosis but we never really have a conversation about it because no matter how modern you become, there is still some stigma around it.
As someone who has OCD, I think that we need to not use the word very easily. My doctor even gave me examples, where people would tell her that because they like to wash their hands 4 times a day, they think they have OCD. This not only takes away from the seriousness of the disease but also makes it hard for people to actually go and get diagnosed as it becomes a very generic term.
We as a community need to stop over-diagnosing ourselves based on information found on the internet, self-diagnosis is important but after that go to a specialist and get the help your situation actually needs.
Snigdha Kacker, Clinical Depression: “I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t eat.”
As per the National Institute of Mental Health: Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.
I have always known what sadness looks like. I would see my mom stay in bed for days, not speaking, not eating and then there would be days where the only thing that surrounded me was anger.
It was quite early on that I understood that the behaviour I saw every day was not normal and when we got her the help she needed, it opened my mind up to mental health disorders as well. So, when I saw myself falling into the same routine, it didn’t take me a long time to get help.
The first incident I remember was when I was in standard 8th and my family was going through some tough times but at that time taking care of my 7-year-old brother took priority. Post that, being a loud extrovert, I tried to surround myself with people and was hardly ever alone which kept the darkness at bay.
When you think about mental health, it’s never going to be one moment that changes it all for you and my sanity started to snap slowly in 2018. This was the year when I went through a toxic relationship and an even more toxic break-up. This, coupled with my parents’ separation, became my downfall. I remember staying in bed for days, not feeling like working or talking to anyone. I came too close to quitting my job as well but with the help of friends and some strength that I found within, I went to a therapist.
During therapy, I was diagnosed with stage 1 clinical depression along with an addictive personality. This means that my depression is not that intense that it cripples me or makes me suicidal but it does come in bouts and can sometimes be masked as panic attacks, anxiety and the obvious cloud of looming darkness.
I am not on any medications currently but I go to therapy once a week which helps me navigate my thoughts, emotions and, in turn, my life. Even though I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who have a very open mind when it comes to mental health, there is an urgent need to de-stigmatise it even more.
Mental health disorders are a confusing arena to step into. All of them manifest differently in different people and none of them can just go away with a set routine or exercise or healthy eating. We as a community need to create a society where asking for help is no longer seen as a sign of weakness and mental illness is not termed as ‘going crazy’, only then will we have a mentally and physically thriving generation.