Everything else.. Mental Illness still a taboo?

Mental Illness still a taboo?

2016 Sep 8

by Azraa Killru

Crying out loud, we are in the 21st Century, the age of advanced technology and knowledge. Really? Who are we kidding? We are still in the Stone Ages when it comes to the discussion of mental health. Known for our exemplary hospitality, we offer bias, prejudice and discrimination to those undergoing psychological turmoil like how we offer evening tea and biscuits to our guests. A very normal attitude.

A young school teacher, residing in a rural area, is one of three daughters in the family. An unfortunate phase of mental instability landed her in the psychiatric ward at the local hospital. As days passed by and nobody paid her a visit, the hospital staff grew worried. Calls were not answered. The young lady successfully made it through the treatment, yet even after more than a month there was no sound from her family. The hospital resorted to involving the police who managed to ensure a phone call from the family to the hospital. With a lack of enthusiasm about their daughter’s recovery and vague answers, the family managed to convince the staff that they would escort their daughter home immediately.

Yet more days passed and the young lady still hoped they would come but to no avail. Finally, it was her elderly uncle who visited. A shocking news awaited the patient who had barely managed to overcome her mental illness. Her two younger sisters had imposed a strict rule on their father, “If sister comes back, we will leave the house. Her mental illness will be an obstruction to our marriage.” Not wanting to lose two daughters for one, the father accepted their condition. The uncle, who the young teacher had been very close to growing up, is her only family remaining now…

The above scenario displays how unsympathetic one’s own family could be. How can we possibly expect acceptance of mental ailments by outsiders? The community we live in, whether it is due to ignorance or embarrassment, considers anything that requires treatment to the mind as “weird”.


The strange opinions our society holds;

“Depression? You are just sad. That’s life. Take it easy.”

“Acting in a bizarre manner? Must be hallucinating or possessed. Take him/her to an exorcist.”

“Gone mad? Definitely the curse of the past life.”

With such ideologies, even if one is afflicted with a serious disorder or mental illness, accessing help becomes a massive hurdle. You can’t disclose the truth about your psychological condition to family, friends or at school, college or workplace. This shuns the people already suffering to an isolated cage. Their thoughts and emotions will be crushed until they suffocate in silence. It is not uncommon to watch headlines blaring in the NEWS and Newspapers about a suicide here and a suicide there. Stifling your pain leads to worsening of the condition, ultimately pushing the person farther away from recovery or handling them to death in a silver platter.

Not many weeks back, the death of a school boy shocked many people around. Just before his OL results were published, he consumed poison to surrender to the pain. No longer able to deal with his depression on his own, which was inflicted upon him due to family issues, the young, talented, smart and intellectually gifted child took his own life away. A week after his death his exam result sheet appeared with six A stars.

Are occurrences as such avoidable? Definitely. It is the responsibility of those around to observe differences in behaviour in their loved ones, colleague or friend. It’s vital to try talking to them by giving them an opportunity to open up. Sometimes, people fear opening up simply due to trust issues or the trepidation of facing mental illness discrimination. They will keep blocking all types of attempts to thwart you. This doesn’t mean you give up but seek professional help or advice from a trusted confidant on how to handle such situations. This may seem like going out of your way to help someone who appear to be cold and unappreciative of your efforts but a gesture that is valuable to the society as a whole. This makes you an ideal example of what we can individually change in the primitive thinking of our society in terms of mental illness. This can save a life. This can create healthier, stronger and more compassionate personalities, which the world is in dire need of.

An elderly lady standing in the road, screaming at the top of her voice with groceries in her hand at passers-by and vehicles. Clearly impacted by disorders such as Schizophrenia (a part of abnormal social behavior where the patient doesn’t distinguish between what is real and what is not.) But how is the poor lady treated instead? People smirk at her, ogling as though she is a cartoon that popped out of a comic book. Others scatter away, scared she will attack.

She will be called, “Pissu.” “Mental.” “Lunatic.” “Mongal.” “Abnormal” Let’s stop with the synonyms here because the list is pathetically endless. There are colourful names too, which go way overboard.

Apart from discrimination and a lack of sympathy towards mental issues, it is also note worthy how another approach is demonstrated towards psychological issues. The following picture depicts the painful reality.


If facing mental illnesses are not a choice, overcoming those on your own is not in your own solitary hands either. Just as much as pills and medical treatment are required for any physical pains, psychological pain or disorders require proper attention and professional help. The victim is not a stain on society but a patient just as much as anyone who has contacted the flu, dengue, requires heart surgery or simply broke his or leg and needs treatment to his wounds.

Visible or invisible, illnesses should be respected. Offering a biased view on anyone suffering psychologically clearly hampers our growth as a nation and society. It’s a pleasing fact Sri Lanka is developing in its psychological arenas. There is more help being offered and pressuring matters being addressed in social awareness programmes organised by the government, private sector as well as NGOs. It is still in its beginning stages because it has yet to seep deep into the minds of the common folk.

The bitter truth is that even the educated men and women shy away from discussing mental issues, due to fear of social alienation. They need to be infused with the courage to accept it for the medical condition it is and for that to materialise it is equally obligatory for others to reassure them with a strong emotional and moral support to bring them out of the issues. Remind yourself that there is no shame in anything that you are facing.


So, next time you realise someone you know is going through anything related to mental ill-health, encourage them to consult a doctor, obtain counselling, seek a therapist or pursue proper psychological and psychiatric treatment. It can be rather confusing to distinguish between the differences but a little bit of research will be adequate to choose the right option based on the condition.


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