“My therapist tried to convince me that I was a lesbian,” laughed one Homegrown writer when the theme of seeking help for mental distress came up. Only 16 at the time, it may not have left her scarred for life, but it was telling of the larger malaise that surrounds the topic in a country as resistant towards the idea of therapy as India. It also shaped her views towards mental health professionals for many years to come.
As per a recent survey, 60 million Indians suffer from mental illness. That’s larger than some countries’ entire population. The most disturbing aspect of these statistics perhaps lies in the fact that we have the highest suicide rates in the 15-39 age group as well. Skirting and shushing discussion on mental health issues is clearly not serving anyone, and in today’s digital age, it hasn’t gotten any easier. The constant need to create a certain image on social media platforms can harm us (and others viewing it) more than it does good.
So why is visiting a psychologist or psychiatrist a matter that still needs convincing about? What many seem to forget is that having a mental illness is not a choice someone makes, nor is it always a result of their circumstances. Nobody chooses to have Clinical Depression, Anorexia Nervosa or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and yet, it is made to seem that people might have a certain control over these matters. Be it improper education, misinformation, pop culture representations or just plain ignorance – the consequences of people’s prejudices have such dire effects that often, we only truly understand the gravity of when it is too late.
While discussing the matter in the Homegrown office, most seemed pretty forthcoming and open to the idea but were apprehensive to the kind of therapists there are, in terms of quality and knowledge. Unfortunately, we don’t have the best references when it comes to representation in pop culture, and how I wish all of them looked like Shah Rukh Khan, even if he doesn’t get most of the therapy right. Another pertinent problem that came up was due to the lack of knowledge regarding the difference between a therapist, psychologist and psychiatrist. When someone states they’re going to therapy, the assumption is that they’re seeking a psychiatrist, which is probably the most stigmatised form the lot.
iCALL is a telephone and email-based counselling service founded and run by the Tata Institute of Social Services, in Mumbai, since 2013. They offer “psychological distress across age groups, gender and sexual identities, geographies and issues through a team of trained and qualified counsellors,” in their own words.
One of their incredible initiatives is the creation of a database in the form of crowdsourced excel sheet of non-judgemental mental health professionals across the country. “Trustworthy mental health professionals are hard to find in a country like India where there is an acute shortage of trained and qualified therapists. Often one may be willing to seek therapy but may not be able to do so as one is not aware of the ideal qualifications of mental health professionals should possess, one’s rights as a client, and whether the professional would be familiar and sensitive to one’s unique life circumstances,” they write. “This list is an effort on our part to help people make an informed choice of which mental health professional to access for their needs from a wide range of options.”
With details such as their age and gender – whether you feel more comfortable with a younger female or easily open up to an older gentleman – their qualifications and costs. Other details include the mediums through which they conduct sessions (email, phone, face-to-face), their specialisations, are their offices safe, therapy conducive environments and whether they are queer-friendly.
For many people, finding the right therapist is a journey of trial and error. This list makes it easier to navigate the world of mental health professionals. It’s broken up state and city-wise and so far covers Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Assam, Hyderabad, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
iCALL can be accessed free of cost over the telephone by calling 022-2552111 (standard calling rates apply) and over email at [email protected] from Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 10 pm.
For more details, visit www.icallhelpline.org
This article is part of a month-long campaign leading up to Mental Health Awareness Week. If you’d like to share your mental health journey with us, write in to [email protected]
Illustration by Raul Miranda for Homegrown.
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