Issue 14 / Mental Health Matters: A Woman's Story of The Struggle

Mental Health Matters: A Woman’s Story of The Struggle

Sep 10, 2015

Writer Parul Pandya shares her story of mental health challenges and her journey towards wellness.

In today's culture we feel comfortable celebrating the power of the human mind, but we feel uncomfortable discussing the possibility of its instability. Our society doesn't see the vulnerability of the human brain as normal. In fact, it sees it as a weakness and reason to feel ashamed. Clearly it is this perception that spills over to perpetuate the disconnection between the tangible effects of mental illness in everyday lives, and the manner in which it is portrayed in mainstream media and understood by the general public. I had not really given this much thought until I was faced with my own mind-wellness challenges and became sensitive to the stigma largely associated with mental illness.

Firstly, I, like many people who are facing mental illness in my life, am not defined by my illness. Instead, I am affected by the symptoms that are associated with my condition; in my case, insomnia and anxiety with bouts of depression. Otherwise I am just an ordinary person who is facing and dealing with health difficulties, like many others do at various stages of life. Mental illness is no different than a physical ailment, such as a broken bone or a skin disease. It presents a unique challenge to those who are affected by it in its various forms, ranging from acute to chronic conditions. Perhaps it's not easy to discuss what we cannot see, but this does not diminish that it exists. 

I think the discussions and images portrayed by the media around mental health do not help in ushering in this conversation, as they often ignore telling the stories of everyday people. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime regardless of age, class, gender, education or culture. That is close to 6.7 million people in Canada alone. Instead on TV, in print and online the media pushes the notion that compromised mental health is circumstantial, and more likely to affect marginalized individuals with a tough life, such as law-breakers and those who are living on the streets. But a 2010 study completed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada stated that genetic disposition to mental health problems can be identified to be just as prevalent as stressful or difficult life events being a trigger. The study continues to reveal that by the age 40 nearly 50 per cent of the population will have or have had a mental illness, showing that this type of illness does not discriminate in a vastly multicultural society like Canada.

This is important to consider by the South Asian community, where it still seems very taboo to discuss mental health in general. Traditionally, it seems that Indians see mental problems as a Western issue, but I am confident that we can all recall a family member or friend who has dealt with some sort of psychological obstacle, making this perception hugely flawed and alienating to those who are suffering. Again, just because we don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room, it does not mean that it is not large enough to be seen.

In fact, all too often I have spoken to people about how they feel ashamed to admit their psychological woes and they admit that though they are in distress, seeking professional support is not something they would consider, for fear of perception as being seen as fragile and sick. I know what this feels like, as I too was initially afraid that others would look at me as weak, crazy or unstable. It was a double-edged sword when I was first coming to terms with mental illness, as not only did I have to accept a condition that was not visible to the naked eye, but I was horrified that people may start to see me in a different light due to my illness. I was overcome by humiliation that I could not get better by myself. To add insult to injury, I began tried various medications and treatments, but it wasn't until months later that I found a treatment plan that worked for me. So I urge those who are feeling concerned about mind wellness not to prolong an already difficult hardship and recovery.

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While there are an increased amount of awareness campaigns on mental wellness, I believe that until we start accepting and discussing the legitimacy and stigma associated with it, millions of people will continue to live in fear and isolation. Millions will be afraid to ask for help, so they can get better and begin to take back their lives. I know for me it is a slow healing journey and I still battle with my mind each day. But now that I understand what I am facing, I have the confidence that I can overcome it and even thrive. I think now is the time for us to be brave and force conversations that better inform us on being more compassionate on how mental illness is manifesting itself within our communities. I hope more people find the courage to talk about their battles with mental wellness so that the silos of silence can slowly be removed to create a more supportive vision for a prosperous mind, body and spirit for us all. 

For more information or help with mental health related issues, visit: Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Canada), National Institute of Mental Health (U.S.), Mental Health Foundation (U.K.) and The Banyan (India).

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