My grand-aunt (my grandmother’s sister), R.Seetha, is an extraordinary woman who has had a tough life. As a young woman, she was a very bright student and became one of Bangalore’s first two female engineers in the 1960s. It was during her time in college that she began to experience symptoms of schizophrenia with hallucinations and some inexplicable fears. During the 1960s in India, there was a very poor understanding of mental illness and it was only in later years that it was recognized as schizophrenia.
The only treatment available to my grand aunt was overmedication and electric shock therapy to dull her mind and occasional emotional outbursts. These traumatizing ‘treatments’ eroded her cognitive abilities which in turn led to a drop in self-confidence. My grand aunt lived with her parents for many years after dropping her engineering job and led a healthy life. Eventually, after my great-grandparents passed away, she went to live in a retirement home. However, for her to be allowed to live in this retirement home, she must be under constant medication to ensure that she is not a disturbance to any of the other residents. So she continues to get medication but now in her late 70s, she is leading a relatively calm life in the retirement home with the support of two siblings who regularly check on her.
My grand aunt was lucky to have the support of her parents and now her siblings, but many others are often not so fortunate. In India, there was and still is a social stigma around mental health conditions. Disorders like this are seen as the patient’s fault. Thanks to strong family ties in Asian communities, such patients are usually cared for by family members. However, too often mental health problems are seen as something that tarnishes the family’s honor or as a sign of weakness. The combination of the social stigma and the still lacking medical treatment options makes the lives of people with mental illness much harder than it has to be.
It is so important to fight this stigma against mental health disorders in Asian communities, so people like my grand-aunt can receive the proper treatment and support they deserve.
(Ananya Rao/17 years old/female/Indian)