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A story of their own: people with lived experience of mental illness on their journey so far

October 10, 2023 08:21 pm | Updated October 11, 2023 10:59 am IST - CHENNAI

At an event to mark World Mental Health Day, individuals who survived mental illness explain how they overcame the stigma through treatment and support

“Support from treatment and rehabilitation teams, family and society is a key element in their journey”R. TharaSCARF vice-chairperson

After being diagnosed with a mental illness at the age of 19, Manoj*, now in his mid-sixties, knew that there would be shades of grey in his journey towards recovery. But, over the years, whenever stray symptoms occur, he has “learned to walk away to normality” as he believes that there is “no perpetual blue sky”.

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Like him, 32-year-old Vaishali* learned to cope with her symptoms and chalked out a path of recovery with the hope that she will be fine one day, while for 62-year-old Asha* art is a form of therapy.

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Each one of them has a story to share; a story of how being diagnosed with mental illness changed their lives, of how they coped with the symptoms and overcame barriers in the form of stigma through treatment and support.

On World Mental Health Day (October 10), a number of persons with lived experience of mental illness outlined their journey so far.

“I have been on some kind of medication for 45 years. While my family and close friends knew, I did not disclose my condition then. Because here, you cannot divulge your condition and expect normal treatment. People look at you through different colour lenses, “ Mr. Manoj, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, said.

He had three “mantras”. “Accept my fate and carve out my destiny. See myself as unique, absolute and non-relative as there is no need to compare, and lastly, a leap of faith that there is betterment in every circumstance. It is important for families to understand, and mine was very supportive,” he said.

ALSO READ | World Mental Health Day | How does India address the burden of mental disorders? 

While he still experiences stray symptoms, he said, “I have learned to walk away to normality. I take up something physical, like make a sandwich or take a walk. Symptoms occur during stressful situations. I take my medications regularly, and have learned to cope by using my three mantras. The key is to understand there is no perpetual blue sky. I take one step back, one pause to examine,” he said.

Ms. Vaishali, who started to experience symptoms as a 19-year-old student, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “In the first few years, we did not know it was a mental illness. I experienced irritation, confusion, fear, anger and pain. It was my diagnosis, treatment and understanding of my condition that helped me stay strong,” she said.

Appreciative of the support from her parents and husband, she underlines the importance of parents understanding issues in children and preventing stress in them.

It is her artistic capabilities that turned therapy for Ms. Asha. “I draw and it is usually on women-centric themes. My family has more girls than boys, so my art reflects the experiences of women. In a way, it is a therapy for me,” she said.

R. Thara, vice chairperson, Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), said family and societal acceptance of mental illness has improved over the years but much more needs to be done. “Support from treatment and rehabilitation teams, family and society is a key element in their journey,” she said.

To communicate about mental wellness in an engaging manner, Evam, along with SCARF, has created an interactive humorous musical play Its Okay To Be Not Okay. It features an inclusive cast of professional actors, clinicians and people with lived experience. Directed by Sunil Vishnu K., artistic director of Evam, the play is being performed at various corporate firms and the plan was to perform in colleges and communities to bring awareness on mental health first aid as part of PIECEs project.

(*names of persons have been changed to protect their identity)

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