Priyanka was feeling depressed since Class 9 but did not understand her predicament. Her grades were falling, she was losing interest in friends, getting irritated at small things with her parents and sleeping a lot. She was bunking school more often; crying alone and contemplating suicide often. When she failed in Class 12, she was brought for counselling. She needed treatment for depression. Many such children suffer from depression that is masked and goes undetected until the point of crisis.
Rani was in constant conflict with her husband and wanted to die of shame and humiliation because he often accused her of having illicit affairs with other men. He routinely scanned her mobile and emails for the ‘secretive infidelity’ which did not exist. Out of sheer disgust, frustration and a strong urge to end her life, she came for counselling as a last ditch effort. She was informed that her husband suffered from a mental illness called ‘paranoia’ and could be treated for the same. She was actually surprised that such a disorder existed and could be treated! How people suffer in silence.
This is just a couple of illnesses. There is a vast range of mental disorders. The figures are disturbing. In India there are 6 to 7 crore people suffering from common and severe mental disorders. About 50 per cent of severe mental disorders and 90 per cent of common disorders go untreated. According to WHO, 20 per cent of Indians will suffer from some sort of mental illness by the year 2020. We just don’t have the required number of psychiatrists and psychologists in India to handle the crisis.
Besides this, there is a huge stigma, superstition and ignorance attached to mental illness. Even parents of children with mental health symptoms might not be aware of such problems and hence misunderstand the predicament. They shout, scream and blame them for being lazy, irresponsible and stupid whereas there could be a serious problem in the making. Many people say ‘there are no such things as mental problems — he is shirking his studies.’ Or if a woman is depressed her in-laws might say ‘she does not want to work so she makes excuses.’ What we need is a lot of awareness and education about the various mental health problems and willingness to seek professional help. We need to develop a positive attitude towards mental disorders and the knowledge that it can be treated and managed. Many times help from lay persons may backfire and do more harm than good. The attitude and reaction of lay/ignorant persons towards a mentally ill person is that of ridicule, suspicion and apathy. We need to remove all that and help people take the scientific approach to solve this problem.
We must remember that every family, every community is affected by mental health issues in some way. The members of the Rotary Action Group for Mental Health Initiatives share a vision. Our dream is to work for a happier, healthier society and world. We aim to make treatment accessible to as many affected persons as possible; prevent mental health problems through awareness generation and community workshops. We would act as a resource for Rotary clubs worldwide.
What do we want from Rotarians?
You could become a member of the Rotarian Action Group on Mental Health Initiatives (RAGMHI). This is an open invitation for membership in RAGMHI. The RAGMHI is an international body of 25 Rotarians representing five countries (Canada, USA, India, Brazil and Lebanon) with a purpose of promoting mental health globally.
There is an 8-member Board of Directors. The RAGMHI aims to build an association of Rotarians who are passionate and have expertise in mental health treatment. Such members would be actively interested in creating awareness, designing solutions and executing programmes to promote mental health in children, adolescents and adults, thus helping them to lead meaningful and productive lives. Those who are interested can write to us whereby a Pledge Form for charter membership in RAGMHI will be sent to you. Presently, membership is free and open to all Rotarians, their family members, Rotary programme participants and Alumni. You should also write to us about mental health projects of your club. That would help us create a resource pool of running projects that could act as models for clubs to emulate.