Mental Health – The social stigma

The story goes that Narayanan Krishnan from Madurai was working with the Taj Hotels group in Bangalore and had been short-listed for an elite job in Switzerland for a leading hospitality group. One fine day in 2002, he was in Madurai taking a casual walk when he noticed something that changed his life forever.

On the side of the street he noticed a mentally ill man eating his own human waste as he could not withstand his hunger. This one incident brought forth a complete change in Krishnan’s mindset and he decided that helping this man and others in need would probably make his life have a meaning, it would probably be the thing that would make his life worth lived. Read more about Krishnan and his Akshaya Trust at Wikipedia here and the official website here.

In fact, Krishnan’s efforts in this regard were so path breaking that he ended up being in the Top 10 for the CNN Heroes initiative in 2010. Read his official CNN Heroes citation here. This incident was also used as a plot point in the popular Malayalam movie Ustad Hotel [Link to Wikipedia article].

Although it was a well known fact that mentally ill people get a raw deal the world over and especially in India, reading Sakshi Nanda’s latest post on Human Rights and Mental Health [Link to post] once again highlighted the fact just how bad the situation really is on the ground when it comes to the Human Rights of these individuals.

While our movies and everything else in popular culture makes fun of mentally ill people and uses them as caricatures, they unwittingly end up in reinforcing unnecessary humorous stereotypes of such people. If any of us have ever had an encounter with such people, we will clearly realize that there is nothing funny about their condition and that it probably is among the saddest things that can ever happen to a human being.

While we have celebrities endorsing SPCA and PETA, have you wondered why the same celebrities don’t come forward to endorse any cause relating to mental illnesses? The only reason for that would have to be the social stigma involved with the same. There is something that is so starkly disturbing associated with mental illness and related psychiatric conditions that most of us don’t even want to think about it, let alone talk about it. And as long as such stigma remains in people’s minds, such discrimination will continue to occur.

This post is but a small attempt to try to remove that social stigma at least among the readers of this post and to ensure that all of us at least take baby steps in this direction.


31 thoughts on “Mental Health – The social stigma

  1. Wonderful post, Jairam. What I like about it is the heart-felt emotion that comes across as you speak about that man on the road, and his hunger. And you do not fill it up with statistics, or make it heavy with information.

    Many thanks for including my post. It’s an honour to be associated with a writer and a human being like yourself.

    • @Sakshi, you give me way too much credit for my post when it is clearly visible that it was inspired by yours. The moment I read your post I was reminded of this particular incident which I was made aware of 3 yrs ago when I saw something on Facebook for the CNN Heroes initiative. What Narayanan Krishnan is doing is nothing short of amazing and noble. And the wonderful way it has been incorporated in the Malayalam movie Ustad Hotel speaks volumes for the craft of the director.

  2. I’ll repeat what I said on Sakshi’s post:
    We need to understand that a psychiatrist treats the brain just as a cardiologist treats the heart, etc. The brain is just another organ of the body. We must remove the stigma associated with mental health issues.

    We don’t look down on diabetics or heart patients. Why should we look down on ‘brain patients’ (persons having mental health issues)?

    • @Proactive Indian, that is such an awesome point you make, we must remove the stigma on patients with psychiatric issues and that is the start of this journey that all of us must make

      • The stigma is very, very strong. A psychiatrist friend told me that many of his patients and their family members act as if they don’t know him if they meet him in public. He told me this when we were both at a social function. I immediately said, “Boss, now that so many people here have seen me having a long chat with you, they’ll all think I must be having some mental illness!”

      • @Proactive Indian, quite a sad state of affairs if one cannot even have a decent conversation with a psychiatrist without being labeled as a mental patient

  3. It’s a commendable post and noble on the part of Narayan Krishnan to come forward and devote his life to the cause. It is a shame that the stigma against victims of mental illness permeates society.

    • @Vishal, commendable is an understatement for the emotion that I feel for the man, who pretty gave up his whole life, his cushy five star job and put in all his life’s savings till date and the rest of his life as well to the cause of feeding these people

      • He sacrificed his life for the cause. How I wish there were many more men and women like him to spread happiness and make a difference to the world. Hats off to u for blogging about the cause:)

  4. You get very few people like Krishnan who would go to such extent for a cause. He’s a hero indeed. It’s really sad that there is so much stigma attached to mental illness even now. Hope that changes soon. Your post was brief and to the point.I enjoyed the read thoroughly.

  5. I’m glad Jairam that you touched upon this subject and introduced Narayanan. I’m personally associated with his trust since past 3 years and the kind of service he is doing to mankind is beyond appreciation. Just this morning I left a comment on Sakshi’s blog introducing his trust, Akshaya whose motto is Helping Help. Brilliant pick on human rights.

  6. Jairam you have rightly pointed out that the stigma attached to a mental person is the greatest hurdle in the treatment. I remember an incident that I had read in a magazine about a girl in a well-to-do family slips into deep depression and is treated for the same . The family puts her in a mental asylum run by a private agency and puts a ‘missing person’ as in the newspaper to cover up for her absence. Many families do not disclose of their family members ‘brains problems’ openly as they do not get marriage alliances.

    • @Kalpana, yes it is quite sad that even the parents, siblings and immediate families of these patients themselves have a social stigma in being associated with them

  7. I think it is wonderful that you spotlighted such a real problem in the world today that most people don’t want to recognize or talk about. As you say, when there is a social stigma attached people tend to avoid it instead of trying to solve the problems and help.

    • @Kathy, more than the cure or the treatment itself, I think it is the social stigma attached to mental patients that make it such a difficult problem to tackle

  8. Second post about the same man..He is doing a remarkable job and is worth a praise.
    Well said Jairam, I agree on stigma attached to patients make it difficult.

  9. Superb post J! I have read obout Krishnan from Madurai and reading it again here, makes me want to do something too – so inspiring he is. After all, money is not everything!

  10. I feel this is one of the biggest challenges in our world today. Mentally challenged people have been dealt the wrong hand by us all. And poor they cannot even understand so. 😦


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