07/04/2017 2:45 PM IST | Updated 10/04/2017 12:20 PM IST

5 People Reveal Why It Is So Difficult To Seek Professional Help For Mental Health In India

It's time to talk.

Sonaksha Iyengar

There's a fair chance that you already know someone who needs help for mental health. According to one recent study, only one of five of the 150 million Indians with mental health issues get treatment.

Everyone goes through phases of stress, anger and sadness, but the lack of discussion around mental health disorders and how people struggle with them makes it hard to recognise the signs that you need help. There are a host of reasons that make the process of seeking professional health for mental healthcare even more daunting: the social stigma surrounding mental health , the myths surrounding therapy, the lack of awareness about whether you should see a psychologist, a psychiatrist or a counsellor, or even finding the right doctor that you can trust and confide in.

Five people across India shared their stories on why they or people they knew were reluctant or scared to seek professional help for mental health and whether they managed to resolve their concerns.

Pranita Kocharekar

Pranita Kocharekar often makes illustrations on mental health and anxiety.

I noticed I was very anxious time and again and spoke to a few friends about it. I then realised that there are many people who suffer from minor and major anxiety. I began gathering details of incidents that my friends and I acknowledged and illustrated them. When I posted these on Instagram, a lot of people sent messages. Some weren't sure if they had anxiety but they were too afraid to speak to their friends/family because of being ridiculed. One person also mentioned that when she spoke to a friend, she didn't get a good response, in fact it made her feel lesser because the friend thought that she was very dramatic.

"A lot of the people were afraid of visiting doctors because of two reasons: firstly, what will people say, and secondly, what if the doctor prescribes meditation that drive me crazy?"

A lot of the people I spoke to were afraid of visiting doctors because of two reasons. One, what will people say? I'm not sure how it may look. My family will be looked down upon. Secondly, what if the doctor prescribes meditation that drive me crazy?

Self diagnosing an illness is as dangerous as ignoring it. It is such a delicate matter of the mind, that if not treated appropriately, it can cause long term damage. It is not only important for people suffering through mental illnesses to take charge, but more so for those around them to understand how to handle such situations.

Bengaluru-based writer and illustrator Sonaksha Iyengar recently completed a series on the A-Z of mental health.

It was really confusing to not to be able to understand what was happening and how to go about dealing with it. It also didn't help that most people around just asked me to feel happier or build willpower because as I said before there's really a huge lack of awareness. People often say "Dude, even I was in depression just get over it" but that's really not how it works. You can't just get over depression which is why it is so important to seek professional help.

In fact, I think a huge step in the direction of understanding would be if we acknowledged that no one chooses to have a mental disorder and they most definitely are not doing it for attention. It can already be really hard to explain something that's invisible, so empathy is very important.

"I haven't always had the best experiences with therapists but that's also important to talk about because a lot of people go to mental health professionals expecting to be 'cured' but that's not how it works."

I continue to struggle with my mental health, but over the years, I realised that trying to seek professional help might make things clearer. Yes, I haven't always had the best experiences with therapists but that's also important to talk about because a lot of people go to mental health professionals expecting to be 'cured' but that's not how it works. I've recommended some of my therapists to others looking for one and that has worked out for them. I just wish it could be more affordable as I do realise that a large number of people are unable to access it because of the lack of affordability to do so.

Yes it's scary to confide in a stranger, but it's freeing to be able to understand why your brain is working the way it is. Speaking about mental health openly will help us realise that it's truly okay to not be okay. And that will help us be kinder to ourselves and everyone around us.

Sonaksha Iyengar

Nandini Chandra, Delhi-based writer and marketing manager

I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 15 when I had gone for an ordinary health check up after my father's death. The doctor prescribed medicines, but back then in Kolkata, someone taking pills for feeling better at such a young age was a big taboo. After a month, we went to our family physician, who advised against it and said it could affect my nervous system. I stopped taking the pills. It was more of a relief for my family, who thought that feeling low was just a phase that I would get out of.

"If someone is telling you that you have to make yourself feel better, it becomes difficult to convince yourself that you need medical help."

That was 12 years ago. I had bouts of depression after that, but friends often said that I should look forward to the positive side of life and try harder. If someone is telling you that you have to make yourself feel better, it becomes difficult to convince yourself that you need medical help. Last year, I hit an all-time low but was confused about where and how I should get help. When a friend wrote about seeking help for depression anxiety on Facebook in 2015, it inspired me to find proper medical help.

I looked for a doctor, but it is a trial-and-error process. Even if you go to a doctor, there is no guarantee you will be comfortable. You have to find the right fit for you. It is all the more difficult to find a psychologist or counsellor, because it is usually recommended through to a psychiatrist. Moreover, counselling in Delhi is quite expensive -- it can cost from 1000 to 1600 rupees -- and you can be asked to asked to visit multiple times a week.

Pranita Kocharekar

Shipra Dawar, Founder and CEO, ePsyclinic

I was studying business studies in Australia in 2010, and was away from my family for the time. I started feeling very low and was under a lot of pressure. When I was in India, I used to be one of the most chirpy people around but I suddenly became very quiet. I was confused about what had happened to me. I would call my father that say 'I can't live here. I will die'. I wasn't even aware that professional help was an option. I might sound really ignorant but I did not know what counsellors and psychologists do. My only reference was that they worked with the mentally ill or someone who has lost touch with who they are.

"I wasn't even aware that professional help was an option or what counsellors and psychologists do."

One day, a professor asked what was going on, if I was struggling with something and suggested that I speak to a counsellor. It was an alien thought. I randomly said that I didn't need that, I am sane. I had that stigma. He said yes you are sane, because sane people act on their issues.

When I went to see the university counsellor, I saw a line of young men and women waiting to see her, like a general physician. I realised that I was not alone and half of my reluctance was gone. The other half went way when I spoke to her. It was so analytical that I immediately felt lighter.

Anovshka Chandy, social media lead, The Live Love Laugh Foundation

I was diagnosed with depression three years ago, when I was 23. I had moved from Bengaluru to attend college in Bombay. I think I had it for a lot longer, perhaps even two years, before I was diagnosed. I felt terrible and would sleep all the time but would blame it on late nights. I hid it from everyone I knew. I would go out, have a happy face, crack jokes, because you still want people to know you're okay.

"Deep down, I knew something was wrong but I didn't want to acknowledge it and to take medicines."

There was just a lack of awareness. I had heard about depression but I never knew anything about it. You tend to equate depression with suicide. Deep down, I knew something was wrong but I didn't want to acknowledge it and to take medicines. I thought my parents shouldn't get worried. There is this stigma attached to going to therapy, where everyone assumes there is something really bad happening.

Towards the end though, I began thinking irrationally. I thought that was scary and when my mother, who's a therapist, said I should see a doctor, I did. When I got diagnosed, I did not tell anyone except two of my close friends. Last year, when The Live Love Laugh Foundation launched an awareness campaign, my story came out. That's when I realised how big this stigma was. i stopped getting invited out, and heard a lot of gossip that I was crazy. That was really hard.

I still go for therapy today. Though my depression is gone, I have bad days and like to have someone I can talk to.

If you or anyone you know are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call any of these helplines: Aasra 91-22-27546669, Sneha 04424640050, Jeevan 00 91 6576453841, Pratheeksha 0484 2448830.