You try and wake up in the morning, spend half an hour arguing with yourself about the futility of staying alive. You somehow manage to get out of bed and put on clothes and rush to your office. It’s only 11 am but you already feel exhausted. You’re exhausted by the prospect of sitting at your desk and forcing your brain to work; you’re exhausted even thinking about the emails you have to respond. But you must not let it show. You must slap a big smile on your face. You smile so brightly that sometimes you manage to even convince yourself that you’re happy. You have to play pretend because unfortunately, you can’t call in depressed to work.
That’s how I describe my own journey of being a young professional while battling depression and anxiety. Currently, there are 56 million Indians, men women, and children, playing pretend on a regular basis because we have not stopped shaming those who struggle with issues of mental health.
It has been almost 10 years since I first came face to face with this dark shadow called depression. My journey with my depression has evolved ever since. I have been in therapy for almost eight years and on medication for seven. I no longer feel ashamed of being clinically depressed. But I still have those days when it seems impossible to convince myself that my feet won’t crash upon impact with the ground. Except, that heaviness, which is so familiar to people with depression, is almost always not visible to others. It would be easier if depression and anxiety could manifest themselves into something outside of us; something that could be cut away. But they can’t and it’s harder and far more violent to hack parts of yourself that you don’t like. It’s the fact that depression can be so easily invisibilized that makes it so debilitating.
While I have learnt to not devalue my own struggles, I also realise that I speak from a position of privilege. I have the economic privilege to afford therapy and medication, the social privilege of not being shamed by my loved ones and the privilege of having a mother who was aware enough to spot the signs. These privileges are because of my upper-class and upper-caste background and are not something I have earned. But despite these privileges I have crashed and burnt more times than I care to admit. So if a person like me, armed with access to the best facilities, can struggle so much then what chance do the millions have who do not share my privilege?
The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 is definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s only the beginning. Lack of good public mental health facilities make it impossible for many to access mental health professionals. The one’s that do exist are not nearly adequate. One look at the “mental health ward” of a public hospital would convince anyone that the state of mental healthcare is abysmal in our country. The therapists are insufficient in numbers, overworked and exhausted. The patients are all cramped into rooms, packed one on top of the other, without an environment that can make them feel safe enough to recover. The plight of these wards are because of the lack of money being spent towards mental healthcare. Only about 0.06% of the total healthcare budget is spent on mental health, with the overall health budget already at a meagre one or two percent of the union budget. The measly resources and money that is the government is willing to spend on mental health betrays how low on the priority scale it is.
Depression and anxiety do not discriminate between poor and rich. But it is only people belonging to privilege who have the socio-economic backing to deal with their depression. The others are just left to fall through the cracks. Discussions of privilege are not meant as attacks on anyone, of course privilege doesn’t always protect one from struggle. However, we must recognise our privilege and channel it towards creating a more inclusive world. Access to mental healthcare cannot be determined by their privilege. It has to be a right regardless of one’s gender, class, caste, race etc. We need a paradigm shift where many and not just few get access to effective therapy and medication tha is so vital to combat depression. We can no longer afford to remain silent.