Mental health in urban India is dominated by psychiatric drugs, arbitrary diagnoses and, to a lesser degree, a few somewhat basic “techniques” to help us manage our emotions. There is, of course, a place for all of this and it isn’t my intention to belittle the usefulness of approaches that attempt to manage emotions. Indeed there can be times when such an approach is essential either on its own or in conjunction with an exploratory one. Also, I do not believe we are in any way lagging behind as a nation for focusing on control this much. In fact, we have created rather stark separations between the wealth of philosophical and spiritual knowledge about emotional wellbeing we have had for thousands of years and our newly established institutionalized mental health care setups for the most part. How else do we make sense of our experiences within the broader cultural, social, political and economic conditions that continue to drill in the fact that we do not matter as people or as individuals? So in order to keep going on, perhaps these pesky unruly emotions need to be put in place so we can be a part of the system. It gets exhausting and sometimes plain dangerous to be the one misfit that claims to have a voice.
Unfortunately, this mass repression of our most basic unmet needs and desires has caused deep wounding in our collective psyches. The more we hurt, the more we try to over-medicate, suppress, fight and dissociate from our truth. What else can we do? If we look into our recent history, the early ‘mental hospitals’ were set up in India by our colonists in an attempt to control a rising tide of the Independence movement. The very paradigm of western mental health that we were forced to take on was set up to control and terrify people (particularly women, slaves and colonised people) into submission. So how can it be a surprise that it is still common for people in India to be slapped with random diagnoses after a ten-minute consultation and then prescribed potent psychotropic drugs or worse subject to inhuman electro-convulsive “therapies”? If the focus of mental health remains to control our disobedient feelings, all we do is perpetuate the cycle of institutionalised and almost ritualised abuse. This is worse for people who find themselves as oppressed or minorities, who in fact are the those this system attempts to hold down for fear of what their alternative perspectives may bring.
This is why the state of psychological and psychiatric services in India can be depressing at best, and downright vicious at worst. I have felt strongly about this for years and also feared that expressing my views in this climate would be somehow inappropriate. I was afraid of antagonizing those who felt like the big powerful men behind the system. I held back, frightened of the consequences for saying this or basing my practice on a humanistic, post-modern, feminist stance, focused on empowerment and ethical practice. I did as a professional woman should in these cases. I kept silent and followed the script. So do I dare poke the dragon now?
It isn’t unusual for psychotherapy in its more evolved states to be considered an act of resistance and of deconstruction. The very fact that I could believe that I deserve to be heard and that my life is worthy of undisturbed focus is radical, perhaps even outrageous from some dominant perspectives. I am worth the effort it takes to hold me in the gentle suspended attention of a suitable therapist. I am also worth being in my own awareness. Therefore, maybe my existence deserves notice. Perhaps my psyche deserves space to breathe. The emotions that create my inner world are important. In fact, they could be the most important experiences of my life. Psychotherapy at its best, like meditation, like the best forms of healing, like art as well as spiritual practice, is a bold cry that I matter. We matter. Our existence is purposeful and valuable.
Human life cannot continue to be a slave to ideas. Our ability to be open, vulnerable and truthful is the highest bravery we are capable of. I believe that pain needs to be witnessed and it longs to be understood, held, seen and cherished. Our feelings long to be felt and when they are felt truly and deeply, we feel ourselves. We stand back in awe and realise we are real, we are alive! I cry, scream and shout to realise that I exist deep inside the metal cast armour I have built to survive the roles I must play. When pain is released we heal the world with every tear, through every heartbreak, one story at a time.