Mental Health, Psychology

Silent Voices -Understanding Mental Health

On a Wed 27th of May,2020 a mentally challenged boy in his mid 20s was taken to the local hospital by his parents. His body was covered in cuts and bruises . The day after this incident angry locals ransacked the boys house claiming that the victim was hacked to death by his parents and younger brother.

July 17, 2018 a mentally challenged woman was beaten by a mob in Jalpaiguri over the suspicion of child theft.  This incident was an echo of an earlier incident in 2017, where a mentally challenged women was mercilessly beaten to death in Murshidabad. Through her incoherent speech and confusion she could not speak in her defence, so she was tied to a tractor and beaten for three hours.

Attitudes towards Mental illness 

Mental illness  , ‘pagol’ , the word immediately bring forward images of people like Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock story Psycho , a murderer – voyeur who kept the corpse of his mother to a serial killer who skins his victims to make a suit of their flesh , (The Silence of the lambs). Mentally ill people are viewed by people as violent, aggressive, crazy, talks to themselves, stupid, born with brain defect.  The stigmatization is so extreme that it has led to prejudice and stereotype  regarding them. The truth and reality of the situation is quite different .Recent studies point out that individuals with severe mental illness are at a higher risk than the general population to be victimized .(Khalifeh et al 2016)

TLLLF_2018 Report How IndiaPerceives Mental Health.

According to the National Mental Health Survey 2016, conducted by National Institute of Mental Health 1.25 crore of Bengal ’s estimated population of 9.67 crore suffer from various mental health problems and are in need of immediate treatment.  When it comes to severe mental health disorders 1.8% of Bengal’s population is affected, the highest in the country. So an awareness regarding mentally illness needs to be there.

Risk Factors for victimization 

Studies have also attempted to seek risk factors for victimization. A meta-analysis of 20 studies found female gender, homelessness, substance abuse and history of child sexual abuse to be the most significant factors involved . Most patients get abused verbally through harsh voice, abusive language, blaming and threatening. Physical abuse takes forms of slapping, beating, being attacked with a weapon, whipping, chaining, mutilation or keeping patients locked up. Social neglect and discrimination are common. In a significant number of these cases, the abusers are acquaintances or family members of the victim (Brown and Anderson,1991). Intimate partner violence and domestic violence in females needs a mention in this regard (Coker et al., 2002) There are certain factors in the mentally ill people which makes them unable to perceive risk and protect oneself,  making  them vulnerable to abuse. These factors are:

  • Impaired Reality testing
  • A disorganized thought process
  • Impulsivity
  • poor planning and
  • problem solving
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • helplessness 

In the upcoming months post covid a huge mental health crisis awaits us. Prolonged isolation will lead to both economic and mental health crisis. Unemployment, alcoholism, economic hardships, indebtedness, domestic violence and  child abuse specially if the perpetrator is in close contact with the victim will all become  contributing factors to mental illness. According to a survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society, within a week of the start of the lockdown, the number of reported cases of mental illness in India had risen by 20%. Therefore it is important to de-stigmatize mental illness.

Certain common myths and facts about mental illness: 

Myth: Only ‘crazy’ people have mental illness 

Fact: When you are physically ill for eg. You have got a cold . What do you do? You would go to the doctor take medications for some time, take rest and get cured. In case of mental illness it is similar. The only difference is there is no stigma attached to you going to a doctor but you would think 10 times before you go to a mental Health professional. Change your perceptions 

Myth: People with mental ill health are violent and dangerous. 

Fact: Most people with psychiatric problems are not violent . It is true some subset of mental illness does contribute to the risk of violence, however the findings are inconclusive as there are other contributing factors such as substance abuse which aggrevates this risk. Do be alert but treat mentally ill people with compassion. Because their aggression is brought about by neurochemical changes and disturbed cognition.  

The unfortunate truth is that individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.  

Myth: Seeking help for mental illness will lead to being ostracized.

Fact: A problem is categorized as mental illness when it is persistent and leads to disturbances in personal, social and occupational functioning. Seeking mental help would help one to come back to the optimum level of functioning. First you need to be convinced before you can convince others and alleviate their fears. 

Myth: Anybody with a counseling certificate are mental health professionals.

Fact: Don’t get confused by seeing the word counselor. There are different types of counseling for eg, academic counselor, career counselor and psychologists. It is important that the person you go to have a background in psychology preferably RCI registered. Just doing a course from different background is not sufficient to deal with ones mental health. 

Myths: Mental illness is incurable

Fact: When you have thyroid or diabetes you need to be on medications for prolonged periods. This helps you to manage your physical problems and adjust to your daily routine. Similarly in mental illness at times lifelong management through intake of drugs may be necessary, but with social support and lack of stigma it may be possible for them to be rehabilitated back in society.

Concluding Remarks

A lot of discussion remains on this issue, a lot of attitudes needs to be changed.  We all have to be in this together and change the social constructs based on misinformation. It is then only we can call ourselves truly humane.

References

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