OPINION: Mental health is still considered taboo in India

Apr 19, 2023 | OP-ED, Opinion

My world turned upside down when I came to Canada as an international student from India. There were so many cultural shocks, I felt like I wouldn’t fit in here. But the biggest shock was how people could openly talk about their mental health.

Mental health issues remain taboo in India and people who talk about their mental health openly are judged negatively by Indian society. It is something that needs courage and trusts to talk about candidly.

According to a survey conducted by The Live Laugh Foundation, almost 50 per cent of people had a judgment against people perceived as having a mental illness.

“Due to the stigma associated with mental illness, a lack of awareness, and limited access to professional help, only 10 to 12 per cent of these sufferers will seek help,” the study said. One in five Indians, or about 200 million people, may suffer depression at some time during their life, the report said.

This is the reason many Indian international students don’t feel like sharing about their mental health when they come here to Canada.

The National College Health Assessment Fall 2021 found 14 per cent of students confirmed that they thought of ending their life. The study of 33,204 students at 41 American schools

Sometimes, you don’t even know what anxiety and depression are unless, or until, you get educated. This happened to me when I understood these terms after an internet search while in India.

But I could never openly talk about my mental health. It was easy for me to say “I have a fever,” but I could never gather the courage to say I am feeling anxious.

When I finished high school and applied for studying in Canada, I was having a great time spending my remaining days in my village. Suddenly, one day I got the news that one of my classmates committed suicide.

I froze at that moment and didn’t know how to react. I couldn’t imagine that guy having mental health issues. He used to go to the gym. I realized being physically strong doesn’t mean being mentally strong.

I discussed this with my parents and to my surprise, they agreed with me and told me that mental health is something that should be talked about more in India.

I got my visa and came to Canada just as I was slowly talking more openly with my parents about my mental health. Here, I realized that when you talk about how you’re feeling with someone you trust, you feel much better.

I think the reason many international students from India struggle mentally here is that they become alone suddenly with no loved one. They don’t talk about their mental health because they never did back home. And hence, many international students decide to end their life.

“International student suicides have become a disturbing trend in Canada,” according to a 2021 report by One Voice Canada. The pandemic was a hard time for the whole world but it was very difficult for international students who were dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, and above all loneliness.

A report entitled “The Realities of International Students: Evidenced Challenges” revealed the mental health of international students in Canada has been affected by COVID-19, especially among Indian students.

I think it is time for us to consider that international students need to be aware of the mental health services that they can use. Because when someone commits suicide, they take away their loved ones’ lives too.