An Open Letter on Mental Health

If a 10-year-old was asked to conduct some research on the prevalence of mental illnesses in India, he/she would be baffled by a strange observation-that in the Indian Film Industry (aka Bollywood) – most of the Indian male and female actors are “OCD” or they are completely “schizo”  or “insert name of grave mental illness”.

Let’s take a look at a few of these articles and interviews-

Ranveer’s OCD is irritating : Deepika Padukone

My family is completely schizophrenic, says Alia Bhatt

12 Bollywood Celebrities With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Ayushmann Khurrana Suffers From OCD of Cleanliness

Vidya Balan suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder

Pooja Bhatt : We are an Obsessive-Compulsive Family

I feel very awkward when my friends point out my OCD – Deepika Padukone

and SEVERAL other such “gems” can be found all over the internet if anyone’s interested!!

Now before any of you get worked up worrying about this mental illness epidemic  plaguing Bollywood, let’s make one thing clear- “OCD” or “schizo” is NOT an adjective.

And why just celebrities, even we, the rest of the population, use these grave mental illnesses, just like some “cool” adjective.

Now you may question that why then am I “attacking” celebrities in particular- people from all walks of life use these words almost as much if not more irresponsibly. There are two reasons for that-

Number 1- Mental Illness is the last surviving TABOO in India. We don’t TALK about it, we don’t DISCUSS it, and we sure as hell DON’T SUFFER from it. It is something that OCCURS to someone on some other planet but us -NOPE. We just have mental hospitals where they house “lunatics” who are nothing like us and thank god for that, can you imagine a “paagal” living in your neighbourhood.

Besides the glaring insensitivity portrayed towards mental illness, all this denial points to ONE very important FACT- We are NOT aware of mental illnesses, we might have heard of depression or Bipolar or Schizophrenia at the most, but other than that- there is no source of mental health information available and that is where our beloved celebrities come in.

That brings me to Number 2- It’s a pathetic  FACT that the only coverage mental illnesses get in newspapers and magazines (even the most reputed ones) are through these random use of mental illness as “adjectives” by celebrities and there you have it-India’s mental health information broadcasting ministry is unofficially and sadly, BOLLYWOOD.

Kudos to the celebrities such as Deepika Padukone, Yo Yo Honey Singh and Shama Sikander in India who have been DIAGNOSED with certain disorders and have come out in the open to talk about it, it is a STEP in the right direction. But that cannot justify the irresponsible way in which other celebrities talk about mental illness. It’s quite simple- If you don’t have it, and especially don’t know anything about it, please don’t MENTION it.

Let me recount an instance (and this actually happened) where the family member of a sufferer with debilitating OCD told her – “This is nothing, beta. You have made all this up in your head. Didn’t you see that paper yesterday- Ranveer, Deepika, Farhan, Sunny, Vidya, Sonam- everyone has this OCD-and look how well they are coping. Buck up, get inspired by them”

Let me tell you why this is a slap in the face of someone suffering from OCD- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a serious mental illness that leaves its sufferers barely functioning, debilitated or at best functioning but definitely “not happy”. It qualifies as a disorder because you have a compulsion or obsession that you can’t control and interferes with your daily life; at its worst, paralyzing you and consuming your entire life.

So if you think you are “so OCD about keeping your apartment clean”, you are just an organized person who likes to live in a neat manner. Now if you spend 8 hours a day mopping your house with disinfectant and then spend the next 12 hours in severe anxiety because the cable guy brought “contaminated” shoes into the house, so you spend another 4 hours cleaning, by which time you are “contaminated”, so you begin a “4 hour bathing ritual” sacrificing food, sleep and sanity. Phew, that would be “OCD”.

So-Deepika Padukone-if you are listening- if you find your “OCD” therapeutic (link), you don’t have OCD. I have nothing but admiration and respect for her but it bothers me that someone like Ms Padukone who has had a history of depression and anxiety and even started a foundation to help the cause makes such callous statements about other mental illnesses. It’s like a deaf person running a home for the deaf, while mocking the blind for their supposed weakness-intentional or not, it is STILL WRONG.

You could be “obsessive” about something, you could be “compulsive” about something or have “anxiety” because of something, but you do not have a DISORDER- the D here is for a Disturbing, Debilitating and Draining mental illness.

The crux of the problem here is lack of awareness- not just about “OCD”, but about mental health in general that is wrecking the lives of millions of sufferers.

Now, when Alia Bhatt says “My family is completely schizophrenic”, one understands it is not to be taken literally, however spare a thought for those actually suffering from this disabling illness.

Funnily enough, we are not so careless about physical illnesses. We all associate cancer with losing hair during chemotherapy yet have you ever heard anyone who has been losing hair due to a bad shampoo  reaction,  go-“Oh my God, this hair! I’m so cancer!” No, because we understand that it is a serious illness that can take the sufferer’s life.

So why this norm of using “so OCD” as a replacement for “liking things in order” or “being organized” or “caring about germs”. Yes, it could be a part of an OCD sufferer’s symptoms, just like losing hair is a part of a cancer patient’s treatment, but that does not make you a CANCER patient or an “OCD sufferer”

Let me help you out here- the next time you want say you are “OCD” about something- try “anal-retentive” or “fastidious” or just “finicky”.

It pains me that we are all so aware these days, with access to knowledge about anything and everything at the touch of a button, and yet we remain so ignorant about mental illnesses and mental health in general.

Why is it such a TABOO to talk about mental illness, have you ever heard of someone hiding that they have malaria or jaundice. Just because the former mostly does not manifest itself physically, and it’s all in the mind, does not make the sufferer ABNORMAL or CRAZY or MENTAL or LUNATIC. Mental illnesses are treatable and sufferers can recover and have a flourishing life, but not if they are shunned by society just for having a chemical imbalance in their brain.

The world of mental health sufferers is like a very bad dream which threatens to take over their entire lives. In India, they are chained, treated as “possessed” or “witches”, given ECT without their consent, abandoned on roads and generally treated with disdain. And then you read an interview where the journalist asks questions like “What’s your OCD” and celebrities laughing over the answers which range from “definitely my closet” or “arranging things on my desk in straight lines”.

And while I am on the subject, let’s sort this out right now. If everyone is so interested in “having a disorder” then there is hope for them – Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).

OCD and OCPD may sound the same but are quite different. To make it simple let’s just say that in  people with OCPD, a person may be generally preoccupied with orderliness, perfectionism and control, But rather than be anxious about this, in actual fact they see their behaviour and thoughts as desirable traits.

Someone with OCPD is generally happy with their behaviour. In contrast, people who have OCD are not happy with these thoughts and behaviours. In order to be diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder you have to spend more than one hour a day performing your compulsions. ONE hour, then TWO, THREE….SIX…TWELVE hours.. before it consumes the sufferer’s entire life.

Can we try and reserve some of our “FB likes” and “#love” tweets towards those diagnosed with mental illnesses and respect their struggles and fight to recovery. Let’s READ more about it to become AWARE, DISCUSS it and give the sufferers a chance to HEAL, hopefully RECOVER and stand tall afterwards; not scared of recounting their ordeal, with no fear of STIGMA or JUDGEMENT.

Let’s take a moment and spare a thought for all the mental health sufferers, let’s be a little more sensitive- if not in our behaviour then at least in the way we SPEAK about mental illness.

Have any comments/ideas/opinions/suggestions- Please feel free to share them below!

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