“It’s all in your head.”, many of us have heard this phrase at some point in our life, especially if we are the ones who are suffering mentally. Some of us have even said this phrase to those who might be suffering, either knowingly or unknowingly. 

India has the largest number of mental health patients in the world, with at least 50 million Indians estimated to have undergone depression at some point in their life, according to the Indian Psychiatric Society’s president Dr. G. Prasad Rao. [1]

And yet, the sign of mental distress is seen as a weakness, notably in the eastern countries, including India. People around here tell people to “Get over it.” or “It’s just a phase.”, even if someone suffering from severe mental health issues. It makes us wonder, “Why is there a huge stigma around this issue?” and “Why is it that people around here are still so ignorant of this issue?”


From where did the stigma stem?

A 19th-century engraving shows a cleric doing an exorcism against an evil spirit. Ipsumpix/Corbis via Getty Images


In Indian ancient scripts such as Atharva-Veda have mentioned that mental illness may result from divine curses. Even sins and witchcraft were made responsible for mental illness or the mentally ill. [2]

“Possession by the evil spirits” was one of the most famous ways to describe mentally ill patients in earlier times. It was also believed that if a person is mentally strong, they won’t get possessed by evil spirits. Hence, mental illness came to be seen as a sign of weakness. 

All these myths and legends stem from the lack of education in the earlier time. It does not only apply to mental health but also physical health. When the knowledge of dentistry was not mainstream, people used to believe that tooth worms annexed their teeth and caused them to ache.

Ivory carvings: “The tooth worm as Hell’s demon”, southern France, 18th Century. German Museum for the History of Medicine, Ingolstadt. Photo Michael Kowalski.[3]


There were many myths regarding physical health issues too, which are now disproven by science. As people start to understand a topic, it becomes harder for them to believe in the myths. Still, many people in India highly depend on traditional healing practices for their mental health issues. “Possession by the evil spirits” is still used by some people to describe mental illnesses. This can either mean that people in India are not educated enough, or they are scared to seek treatment due to the huge stigma around it.


Why do modern Indians deny mental health issues?

Mental health in India – statistic & facts by Statista [4]


If the ancient Indians relied on myths for their mental illness knowledge, then the modern Indians rely on the Indian media. And it has not done a great job of portraying what mental illnesses look like; instead, it makes the stigma around it much worse.

Movies such as “Aparichit” and “Humshakals”, portray the mentally ill person as dangerous or crazy, which causes people to hide their mental illness or enter a complete denial of their mental state.  These promotions of inaccurate representation in the media, which makes the mentally ill person look violent and completely mentally unstable, also result in the ignorance of much more common and less severe mental illnesses, e.i., depression and anxiety.

These stigmas can even result in isolating the person who’s suffering. Instead of providing them with proper health care, their families much rather leave them alone so that the person won’t give their family “a bad name”.

India is struggling with a mental health crisis, and it has a suicide rate of 10.4 (calculated per lakh of the population).[5] It is crucial for us to battle this stigma in order to have a better future for us.

How can we fight the stigma?

The simple answer to this question is by spreading awareness regarding mental health concerns. One of the hurdles that come between the patient and seeking treatment is that they’re not aware of the symptoms that they might have or aren’t even aware of the disorder itself. For example, for someone suffering from depression, observable symptoms such as low motivation and sleeping excessively might be misattributed to laziness. And if someone is suffering from bipolar, their extreme manic and depressive episodes can be seen as just being moody. [6,7]

Mental health patients are even shamed by people who say that “They must be doing it for attention.” which, of course, is never the case. And even if someone is doing extreme things for attention, that itself is a cry for help; that person should seek a professional in that case.

If we start to have open conversations about this topic, it can help in spreading awareness. Making people who suffer from these issues feel safe and heard is also a crucial thing to do.


Imagine if a person has some liver problem, and people around him tell him that “It’s just in your liver, and you get over it.”, it will be the most absurd thing that you will ever hear in your life. The equality between physical and mental health should be promoted and made mainstream, primarily by the government.

The underlying issue behind this stigma is the lack of knowledge regarding this topic. Mental health awareness is a crucial step that we can take in order to fight its stigma.

You don’t have to participate in protests or write long articles to spread awareness; you can start by taking your own mental health seriously (i.e. don’t become a victim of self-stigmatisation) and talk openly about mental illnesses to destigmatize mental health issues.

“Healthy body, healthy mind”, having a healthy mind is just as important as having a healthy body. It is time for us to practise what we preach and give our mental health the attention it requires.


[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/59058548.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3146221/

[3] https://effacedblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/tooth-worms/

[4] https://www.statista.com/topics/6944/mental-health-in-india/


[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_India

[6] https://www.thelivelovelaughfoundation.org/blog/others/how-india-perceives-mental-health-the-role-of-awareness