Tackling The Taboo—A Conversation About Therapy
In a country like India, where the pressure on young people to achieve and be the best among their peers is constantly on the rise, it is almost inevitable that these severely high standards take a toll on the overall wellbeing of a person. Unsurprisingly, the statistics agree—nearly 63% of suicides in our country are committed by those in the 15-39 age group.
In spite of the growing threats to the mental health and wellness of the Indian population, the stigma surrounding these issues keeps a much-needed conversation from coming to the forefront. In most circles, even the mention of a possible mental ailment would bring about ruthless judgment for making a big deal out of something that’s “not real”. Oftentimes, this prevents anyone who might be suffering from a mental illness from seeking professional help in the form of therapy or medication. The concept of therapy, in general, is so stigmatised that people fail to acknowledge or even consider its benefits.
In a sit-down with The MIT Post, five students of MAHE shared their experiences with mental health issues, the process of recovery with the help of regular therapy, their support systems and so on, hoping to encourage more of those of who need professional help, to go ahead and seek it.
Anonymous, 20, Manipal Institute Of Technology
“My mental health issues started during my first semester. I felt alone and cut off from most people and wasn’t very interested in college routine. I suffered anxiety attacks which sometimes took a toll on my physical health. It did occur to me that I may have been facing a problem but I did not want to put a ‘mental illness’ label on it, considering how others have much more pressing issues weighing on their minds. Using the term ‘depression’ for my case felt wrong. It wasn’t until my mother pushed me to seek help from the student counsellor did I feel that my problems were real and deserved to be treated. My friends were pretty understanding when I told them I was seeing a counsellor.
My first session with the counsellor at the Student Support Center helped me let out everything I had been bottling up. I was made to analyse my fears and come to rational conclusions as to why I was feeling that way. This helped put matters into perspective and alleviate my anxiety. Though there are no hard-and-fast solutions as such, she did tell me what I wanted to hear at that point in time. Apart from therapy, another outlet I use to deal with my anxiety is poetry. Channelling all my negative energy into writing helps immensely. If anything has been bothering me, I also talk to my friends and mother about it. If anyone is apprehensive about going to therapy, I want them to know that the counsellors are trying their best to understand our problems and help us overcome them. It is important to know that there is no shame in getting professional help to maintain one’s mental health. It does not make one weak-minded or fragile. There is absolutely no point in prolonging such an issue when a solution i.e, therapy, is available to us so readily.”
Ashmitha Srinivasan, 22, Manipal School of Architecture and Planning
“My anxiety stemmed from various issues, including family dynamics, excessive course work and so on. I was constantly being decked against my cousins’ achievements and my lack, thereof. Trying to live up to the extremely high standards I set for myself took a toll on my mental health. As the stakes got higher, my condition became worse. In my third semester, I felt I could no longer cope with my anxiety by myself and hence, started seeing a professional. I told my mother that I wanted to get help and thankfully, she was on board. Of course, I did not tell her the full extent of where the anxiety was coming from—just that it was course related. We went to meet a family psychiatrist and I spilt everything out to her. However, she did not evaluate me properly. She prescribed medications and asked me to take them until I got better. I realized this wasn’t going to work so, I left.
A friend of mine pushed me to give therapy another try and so, I decided to visit the Student Support Center. We worked through my issues and found out that I had lingering depression and anxiety, both of which were caused by ADHD, which I didn’t know I had, until then. Now that we knew where the problem arose from, we started working on ways to deal with it so that I don’t spiral back into depression. I religiously visited SSC weekly and then, bi-weekly for seven months before we got to the bottom of the issue. Once I began to feel a little better, the frequency of the meetings reduced and I now only go to therapy once in three weeks. A major factor of what makes me more comfortable with the therapist at SSC than with the one back home is the age gap. My therapist at SSC is much younger, which somewhat closes the generation gap, making her more capable of understanding the kind of issues the youth face. I did not have to put in any extra effort to help her understand where I was coming from—she just did.
A couple of sessions in, I decided to let my dad know that I was getting help. Initially, he did not take it well and assumed that I was making mountains out of molehills, “as people my age do”. Though he still does not understand the need for therapy, he does acknowledge the distinct change in my behavioural patterns. The lack of support probably arises from my parents not being able to digest the fact that they may have been responsible, in some way, for my issues.
Outwardly, people like to say they understand mental illness and are supportive of it. But when it comes down to it, when someone they know personally is going through a hard time, all they seem to say is “you’re not trying hard enough to get better”. This is the case with some of my peers and people in my life.
One thing anyone seeking therapy must know is that recovery isn’t instant. You can find out what you’re dealing with but learning to cope with it and possibly getting yourself cured is a completely different story. It might take months or even years, and you may relapse several times, but it’s important to believe in the process and stick to it rigorously. For anyone who knows someone suffering from a mental illness, keep in mind, you will never know what it feels like unless you’ve been through it yourself. So, don’t act like you know, instead—listen to them and make sure any advice you give, however well-intentioned, does not come off as insensitive.”
Anonymous, 21, Manipal Institute Of Technology
“For quite a while, I had been having insecurities about a lot of the things that the male sex is constantly judged for. It made me feel worthless to a point where I could not even take a compliment. While all of this added up, what really pushed me off the edge was when my relationship with my girlfriend ended. This happened right before the sessionals, which I ended up not performing well on. The party after sessionals kicked off my alcoholism—I realised that I had found a way to numb my feelings and replace my sadness with alcohol. Thus began my downward spiral.
For fear of not wanting to cause too much concern, I isolated myself from everyone. Often, those suffering from depression fail to realise the importance of sharing their problems with their friends and family. It may not solve the problem, but it does help lighten the burden. The suggestion that I should get help was put across to me by a friend who pointed out that I had been drinking all week and barely getting any sleep. Another friend told me about her experience at the Student Support Center which further encouraged me to give it a go.
The atmosphere at the Student Support Center is very warm and welcoming. The ambience, with soft lighting and sofas and cushions all around, make for a comfortable setting. The counsellor gave me some tips to deal with my issues, the most important being to open up to others. I told my family about my therapy sessions only after I stopped going to them. Being on the more progressive side of the Indian parents’ spectrum, they took it pretty well. My friends were supportive too and urged me to talk to them whenever I needed to. If anyone is going through a similar problem, I’d urge them to, first and foremost, talk about it to someone. We do not have to do this alone. Humans are, by nature, social creatures. We need connections and interpersonal bonding to be able to live a fulfilling life. In a place like Manipal, chances of being judged for seeking help are very less. Most people here are accepting and understand that we all come with our own baggage and there is no harm in requiring some external help to deal with it.”
Anonymous, 21, Manipal Institute Of Technology
“Around the end of 12th grade and the beginning of my first year at college, I realised that I was having a lot of trouble communicating in large groups. I was always anxious before any social events or gatherings. Throughout the first year, I rarely ever left my room and would often miss classes. Simple things like picking out a t-shirt to wear in the morning would take me half an hour. At first, I assumed that all of this was just general nervousness. But my friends had noticed my behaviour too and recommended that I seek professional help. When I spoke to my father about therapy, he wasn’t too receptive to the idea. He was under the impression that it was only for people with serious mental instability. When a child falls down and hurts themselves, we immediately take them to see a doctor. Mental health issues are very much the same. Finally, after one month of persuasion, I started therapy. I was diagnosed with panic disorder and major depression.
For the first year of therapy, I didn’t feel much of an improvement. The only difference was that the medication would numb me and help me feel more at ease. Finding the right therapist is very difficult. I often felt like I wasn’t being heard. They would just take notes and write prescriptions for pills. It’s important to feel comfortable in therapy. Sometimes you might even be told by a professional that you’re completely fine, but if you feel inside that something isn’t right, continue to seek help. One of the most important things my therapist said to me was that these issues never really go away. The best you can do is learn how to deal with them when they come up. After 3 years of therapy, I’m now off medication. I’ve learned to deal with situations that trigger my depression. It is important to know how much you can deal with in social situations. They can be very draining for me, but I’ve learned to say no to my friends when I feel like I don’t have it in me to deal with the pressure.
The conversation surrounding mental health in Manipal has increased a lot in the past couple of years. After the setting up of the Student Support Centre, people seem to be more aware of these issues. However, I still feel uncomfortable discussing my anxiety or depression with my peer group. A lot of times, I’m still told that all my issues are “in my head”. The university should focus on teaching students the essential skills to deal with the high amounts of stress they experience. Teachers can also be of great help, as they are constantly in touch with the students. It’s easy to feel lost and alone when you have depression or anxiety. Having someone to guide you through the whole process would make things a lot easier.”
Sudhanshu Srivastava, 21, Manipal Institute Of Technology
“I had been having a difficult time and was showing symptoms of anxiety and mild depression. One of my friends, who knew what I was going through, suggested that I consider therapy. There were a lot of options to choose from, but the SSC seemed like the most accessible and comfortable choice. I went there quite regularly, about twice a week for 6 months. Most of my close friends knew that I was seeing a therapist. Somehow, I’ve still not gotten around to telling my parents, which I feel is slightly unfair considering they did suggest therapy to me, a couple of years before college. I am unsure of how they’d react to it and I do not want to make too big a deal out of it.
The discussion surrounding these issues has become a lot better in recent years, due to a large number of awareness campaigns across the country. People are still occasionally taken by surprise when they hear that I go to therapy, and not everyone reacts positively to the idea of seeking help for depression or anxiety. I am strongly of the opinion that everybody should try therapy at least once. Therapy is self-care—it’s an hour of focusing on just yourself and voicing the thoughts in your head that you cannot otherwise say out loud. Keeping these thoughts to yourself can take a massive toll on your wellbeing, without you even realising. It is a daunting task to try and find somebody who understands your situation without passing judgement. But once you do, it feels really good. Therapy has helped kick-start my recovery, and it has given me healthy ways to deal with all the issues that I face. To anybody considering therapy, or even remotely open to the idea, I’d say go for it. It’s about finding someone that you can trust, to help ease the heavy load of everyday stress on your mind.”
In an attempt to help students navigate the trials and tribulations of college life and any other concerns, The Directorate of Student Affairs, MAHE has set up the Student Support Center, a service that students can avail, free of cost.
Contact the Student Support Centre via their website, or call between 9 am and 8 pm– 0820-2922430
For a medical emergency, please call – 0820 2923154/ 22246
For Ambulance services, call – 0820 2922761
AASRA (Suicide Prevention Helpline) 022 2754 6669
Spandana, 24-hour Helpline – 65000111, 65000222
For more sources of help in Manipal, as well as all over India, take a look at SSC’s list of helplines.
Featured image credits: Vibha Bhat