How India Perceives Mental Health: The Role of Awareness

The Role of Awareness

The burden of mental illness is on the rise. With the number of people reporting mental health concerns slowly increasing, it has become difficult to ignore the impact that mental illness can have in our day to day lives, our society, and our economy at large. In India, while 20% of our population suffers from a mental illness, only 10-12% of them seek aid for their mental health concerns. In order to build a society where everyone is able to get the support that they require, we need to raise awareness about mental health concerns and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Stigma and awareness are two terms often associated with mental illness. In this article, we break down the importance of increasing awareness.

What is Awareness?

“The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF) 2018 National Survey Report: How India Perceives Mental Health”,  explains awareness as the knowledge pertaining to mental health, its disorders and treatment methods.

Why is it important to have some awareness about mental illness?

  • One of the main reasons why individuals with mental illness do not seek professional help is because they might not recognise the symptoms as signs of mental illness. For example, for someone suffering from depression, observable symptoms such as low motivation and sleeping excessively might be misattributed to laziness.
  • Knowledge of the various symptoms related to different disorders will then allow us to notice when we, ourselves, or anyone around us is likely to be suffering from a mental illness. 
  • Having some awareness also helps us to better understand what we are going through and pinpoint exactly whom we need to ask for support.
  • It would further help to spread awareness across the larger population as well. Knowing more about how the illnesses work, and the effect that they have on the people with mental illness, can help build empathy within the general public for people suffering from these disorders. 

Some relevant findings from the TLLLF study:

  • Approximately half of the survey respondents associate ‘being healthy’ with ‘happiness’ and with ‘having a sound/healthy mind’.
  • In Indian cities, people show some level of awareness about mental illness - 87% of the participants used at least one term relating to the names and symptoms of mental illnesses to answer the question: ‘What is mental illness? How would you describe a person with mental illness?’
  • When asked to describe people with mental illness, most people describe signs and symptoms of severe mental illness (A little more than half say that a sign of a people with mental illness is that they “talk to themselves”; Nearly 1/3rd of respondents link mental illness with a person who “cleans too much”) and the illnesses themselves (Half the respondents link “Depression” with mental illness; and 3 in 10 name “Alzheimer's” as a response to this question). This shows some awareness of mental illness.
  • However, almost half of the respondents also used the words like ‘Retard’ and ‘Crazy/Mad/Stupid’ to describe people with mental illness. These terms can indicate stigma as well.
  • Only 17% of respondents claimed to know someone with mental illness. Of that 17%, nearly half said that they knew an acquaintance with mental health concerns, and only 2% admitted that they themselves were suffering from a mental illness. 
  • 92% of respondents believe that people with mental illness should visit a specialist doctor. Further, a majority (7 out 10) of survey participants believe that mental illness can be treated with medication. Additionally, 63% of respondents believe that people with severe mental health problems can fully recover.

It is essential to disseminate information about the different signs and symptoms of various mental illnesses, while bifurcating between severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, and less severe, more common-place disorders such as depression and anxiety.

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