“My sister had a manic episode of mental breakdown two years ago. We took her to several psychiatrists and psychotherapists until we found out she had bipolar disorder that had gone unnoticed all of her life. This is when it dawned on me how important mental health awareness is, especially in our country with so many biases and taboos when it comes to the topic. The first year after her diagnosis was tough on us as a family. I was her primary caregiver and as caregivers, we often tend to forget how the mental illness of a loved one can take a toll on our own mental health. I always knew I was depressed but never thought I needed counselling. I finally decided, perhaps out of curiosity, to do my psychiatric evaluation and get conventional therapy. I have been on therapy for almost a year now and my life has transformed. For me what really helped was the level of self awareness I achieved. You think you know yourself. But when you see yourself on paper and get an objective view, it makes you think about how you tend to behave and identify the triggers that lead to flare ups. We didn’t know that my sister was going through something. But now that we look back, we can see that there were patterns that we should have recognised much earlier. But awareness was so low, that we had no idea that there was an issue until she had a major breakdown.
As a caregiver I would say that it is important to understand that people who are going through something just need someone to listen to them. Don’t try to offer solutions. They are not looking for that. Be honest. You can't force them to go to therapy. Its only after they realize that they need to change something about their life will they go. It was easier to convince my younger sibling to go to therapy by suggesting that we go together. That made her more receptive to it than going alone. My family has been very supportive of my sister and I getting therapy. They don’t think it’s an illness. It took a while for them to be convinced that this is a real thing.⠀
Communication about mental health in India is very serious and heavy, almost making conversations unapproachable. I have always wanted to be vocal about it, but in way that was more chilled out. I have a few friends who are going through depression. We'd often meet to discuss our mental health journey and I felt like more people need to listen to these kinds of conversations. I have recently started a podcast on mental health called @sentimental.pod. A lot of people who reached out to me after the podcast have a common issue with therapy - it is expensive. When parents are not supportive they don’t know where to get the money from to pay for the therapy. The myths going around about therapy and medication make it all the more difficult. Honestly, most people in India have little or no knowledge of mental health. The podcast helped spread the much needed awareness. My husband, Azeem, has been my caregiver for the last eight years that we have been together. He is my co-host on the podcast. In our circle of friends, most of the people who were willing to come forth and talk are comedians. We are hoping to expand and get more people from different walks of life to go public and speak about their mental health issues. Since the last four episodes there have been people who have actually changed their minds about therapy and have accepted help themselves. I have actually made a difference and that makes me incredibly happy.”⠀