Admitting that you go for therapy in India — how to break it to family and friends
It can be daunting, know what to do and expect in return
The stigma of mental illness is a bit like a haldi stain on a white t-shirt. Even though most people will empathise, the fear of admitting to it takes time to fade. That fear is what holds many people back from getting therapy in India.
Cue denials of your struggles, questioning the need for added expenses and a dramatic mother going “Nahinnnn”.
“As someone who has always been very in control of my emotions, and the self-help kind, admitting that I needed help was daunting,” says Chandni Sehgal.
But telling people you go for therapy can have a healing effect on the patient, explains mental health counsellor Urvashi Bhatia.
“Fearing people’s reactions causes a lot of anxiety. Bringing your family and friends into your healing process strengthens your support system outside of the therapist’s office.”
From broaching the subject to preparing for the worst reactions, we spoke to experts and those who’ve sought therapy in India for tips to help you through this process.
Be honest about how you were feeling
“What led you to see a professional, the emotions you were feeling before — sharing these will allow people to put themselves in your shoes,” says Bhatia.
You decide what details to share, but she says the most honesty you bring, the easier it will be for others to relate.
“I had a long word vomit in front of my parents. I was going to keep it short and sweet,” says Aliya Bhatnagar. Once they saw how emotional she was, Bhatnagar said their own walls broke down.
Chances are that those around you have already noticed the changes in your behaviour and personality. Bhatia stresses that you don’t need to prove anything to anyone or apologise for your circumstances either, but creating a strong support system will boost your recovery.
Knowing what you want from them – whether it’s space, a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen to you – and sharing that will put you (and them) at ease.
If you’re worried about not saying the right words on the spot, rehearse.
“You can write down all the points you want to go over as a reminder. Write out everything you want to say and read it out, or even just hand it over like a letter and let them read it. There isn’t any single way of doing it,” says Bhatia.
Neha Mathur practised what she would say beforehand “like a dialogue”, explaining that it gave her a greater sense of confidence.
It can be a prepared talk where you sit your parents, friends or partner down. Or you might prefer to find an opportunity in a conversation and bring it up naturally.
“I told them after a few weeks, maybe a month, but it was quite practised. I told everyone the exact same thing that I had framed in my head,” adds Sehgal.
Have resources you can share
There is a generational gap when it comes to perceptions of mental illness and therapy. As a culture, we didn’t understand certain ailments as we do now. Maybe some people prefer to live in the comfort of denial.
Instead of poking holes at the whys and hows, Bhatia suggests preparing some information, booklets or whatever resource material you find useful that you can share with others.
“Not everyone knows what an anxiety disorder is and how it’s different from being anxious. They don’t know that manic depressive disorder is now bipolar disorder and there’s more than one kind. It can help them better understand the medical aspects.”
Having information on hand that explains how therapy works and what your medication does can cut through through misinformation and fear.
Bhatia says we should ask our counsellors for material as they’re “always ready with that”.
Give them time to process
“My parents struggled with the fact that they couldn’t see what I was going through. They couldn’t come to grips that their child has such an illness,” says Meghna Rai*.
Some people might jump up and pull you into an embrace tighter than your skinny jeans. Others may be shocked, dismissive even.
We all react in different ways, and it’s hard to not take it personally, but try. You may have struggled to accept that you need help, someone else may experience the same.
“It’s difficult, but try not to be disheartened by a person’s negative reaction. They love you, they may just need time to process everything you’re saying. If they need a better understanding of it, you can invite them to your next session and set it up with your therapist. They’re trained to handle such situations and can be a mediator if things get intense,” says Bhatia.
WATCH NOW: How to cope with stress and anxiety