Well-Being//

Activist and CEO, ElsaMarie D’Silva, Reflects on Mental Health In Her Home Country of India

India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

The two recent high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have shone a light on depression, anxiety, loneliness and mental health. A countrywide study conducted by National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (Nimhans) has revealed a shocking prevalence of mental illness in India with at least 13.7 per cent of India’s general population projected to be suffering from a variety of mental illnesses; and 10.6 per cent of this requires immediate intervention.

The National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health in 2005, nearly 5 percent of India’s population suffers from mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and the figure is likely even higher since mental health is severely under-reported and rarely discussed.

Suicide can be an outcome on the extreme end of the spectrum, as we saw with Spade and Bourdain. India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world according to a 2012 WHO report, and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2015 statistics indicate that every hour, one student in India commits suicide.

As I pondered over the events of the last few days, I could not help but take stock of my own life and its various ups and downs. Whilst I have been called bold, fierce, fearless and courageous, I never really see myself as these adjectives. I have gone through several nadirs in my life, as most people do, but thankfully I have pulled myself out of the throes of despair.

What can help people through tough times? There’s no one answer, but studies have shown that resilience can effectively help people cope with stress and depression, thus predominantly reducing the negative. Thus, building resilience and practising it in one’s life may make a difference. I’ve seen this firsthand in my own life.

There have been times when events were overwhelming to me, causing me to withdraw into my own shell, lose my self-esteem and, also, to some extent, lose an interest in life. Through sheer will power, I decided to take a chance on life, believing that the worst was behind me. Subsequently, I decided to incorporate a few things into my daily practice which would build my resilience in dealing with adversity. Some of them are, but not limited to, reinforcing my self-belief by constantly taking stock of what is working and what is not. I stopped comparing myself to others and long ago decided my journey is unique and I must respect that. Living my life true to my values is critical to my inner strength.

I also ensure that my support system is strong. I choose to surround myself with friends and family and focus on positivity. The people around you are important for your energy levels so choose to invest in the relationships with them and stay far from the negative people in your life. It sounds brutal, but it is important for your self-esteem and self-worth.

Being positive takes practice and is not easy. But every time I catch myself thinking negatively, I try to change it to a positive thought. Over a period of time, I found myself radiating positivity more often because I think and believe it.

Over the past few years, I have realised and observed several friends of mine go through traumatic events in their life, leading to severe depression. I know that when we have these moments, we may feel extremely alone and afraid to share our innermost thoughts and feelings with family members or friends. We may have a fear of being misunderstood, a fear of feeling we have no choice and no control over our life. Intentionally, I have checked in on them and provided the motivation and positivity needed to give them a boost. Realising that I have an innate talent to help people, I qualified to be a professional counsellor in 2014. The training was important for my personal well being too as well as is a handy skill to have when dealing with others.

But at the end of the day, other people can only help us so much. We make our own choices and when we are down, we must choose to want to seek help, live life and recognise our own limitations. No one’s life is perfect, yet we are here. There will be successes and failures, joys and sorrows, highs and lows. Life is not easy nor predictable, but we can choose to try to fight for our place in the world. It is a risk worth taking.

ElsaMarie D’Silva is the Founder & CEO of Safecity that crowdmaps sexual harassment in public spaces, and is a 2015 Aspen New Voices Fellow. You can follow her on twitter @elsamariedsilva

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