The conversation on mental health needs to be broadened
The global conversation on mental health has been lacking. It’s all been in broad strokes.
That Bangladesh has opened up the debate is heartening, but the conversation includes only a small fragment of society. For those who hardly have the means to worry about the somatic can’t possibly imagine taking care of their mental health.
But what does the conversation entail? Do we talk about all illnesses of the mind? Looking at most awareness campaigns, topics of mental health revolve around anxiety, depression, sometimes even PTSD.
How often do we come across awareness campaigns about disassociate disorders, bipolar disorders? Making people aware of patients who hallucinate due to their mental illness isn’t an easy task. It isn’t as palatable, or maybe as widespread as depression or anxiety. But they exist.
Albeit necessary -- as every word, video, and article is the cog for policy-makers and authoritative bodies to get moving -- beginning the conversation about mental health isn’t nearly enough. Mental trauma, and the end results of such, will not wait for us as a society to understand the importance of mental wellbeing.
Even for the middle and upper-middle class, options are limited. There are only a handful of psychological health clinics with certified and competent doctors who are willing to take mental illness seriously. And the fees are exorbitant.
Leave out all the rest
For every 100,000 people needing attention, there is less than one mental health professional. That’s alarming, because it doesn’t even constitute as one person. The only institution with large-scale inpatient facilities is in Pabna, and if the documentaries on the web are anything to go by, it caters to a class different from that which is so embroiled in the mental health conversation.
Which makes me wonder, how many of our close ones have actually been sent to that institution? Lack of attention by caregivers, or the environment, or the other patients -- what is the reason for the reluctance of seeking treatment there?
The mental institution in Pabna is, like any other “unpopular” illness, unpalatable. We don’t like being around people who are screaming from a hallucination or being violent to themselves, just because we don’t understand it.
Of course, the sense of danger that the patient could cause us gives birth to very legitimate fear, but this fear, coupled with the lack of knowledge of the behaviour that mental illnesses can induce, results in the very thing we all talk about and fight against -- stigma.
To stop propagating the stigma, we need to educate ourselves on the contours and nuances of mental illnesses, and how they manifest. It’s not always the depressive or the anxious who need care. Manic episodes or hallucinations are incredibly frightening and frustrating to deal with, but it’s equally so -- if not more -- for those who experience it.
The limits of our conversation too need to broaden, because mental illness can be much more than what the world’s awareness campaigns have rallied.
No one is immune to mental illnesses, not even the ones that are unpleasant, irrespective of class. To be able to truly help a person who needs help, we need to be equipped with the knowledge to understand them and empathize better.
Luba Khalili is Deputy Manager, Communications, BRAC.