If there’s one global shift in recent years that’s very heartening, it’s the focus on mental health awareness. The world has come to realise in the last decade, and especially through the COVID-19 pandemic, that you just cannot take your mental health and well-being for granted. This awareness is supported by the increasing cases of mental health conditions globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders make up for 10 per cent of the global burden of diseases, and 30 per cent of non-fatal diseases burden.
These numbers are only rising each year, which makes mental health awareness as well as providing better support systems and care for those dealing with them, even more important. Whether it is depression and anxiety or bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, one has to admit that these conditions cause severe disabilities and affect your quality of life negatively. In the last few years, a clear link between mental health issues and suicide prevention has also been established.
With these alarming developments in mind, it’s truly inspiring when you find women across all walks of life opening up about their journey through these conditions, or starting initiatives to destigmatise mental health. These women are proving, through their example, that not only is it okay to talk openly about the nitty-gritty of what you go through when you have such a condition, but also where and how you can reach out for help. Here are some such inspiring women you should know more about.
Simone BilesThis American gymnast is on everyone’s mind now, because she chose to step away from the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health. But Biles has always been open about her struggles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the fact that even though she takes medications to deal with her condition, she still plays by the rules and stays clean for the game. “Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that I’m afraid to let people know,” she had proudly tweeted when a hacker released her medical records for the world to see.
Dr Lakshmi VijaykumarDid you know that Dr Lakshmi Vijaykumar played a major role in including suicide prevention as a key part of India’s Mental Healthcare Bill, which was passed in 2016? This psychiatrist and researcher has also been a pathbreaker in other ways—she was the first woman fellow at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK, and has gathered up many accolades for her contributions to the field. She is also one of the first mental health activists to launch a suicide prevention centre in India, called Sneha, in 1986. Clearly, this inspiring woman has been a crusader for suicide prevention for decades!
Deepika PadukoneA few years back, when Deepika Padukone first opened up about her battle with depression, it kick-started one of the first immersive conversations about the condition in India. Since then, this movie star has not only started a foundation, Live Laugh Love, to support those who are dealing with depression like she has had to but also shared messages of love, support and upliftment through her social media. Padukone continued this trend throughout the pandemic, which was a major source of inspiration for many.
Naomi OsakaQuite like Biles, Osaka has always been pretty clear about the fact that her mental health is a big priority for her. While this does not mean that the tennis star isn’t focused on her game or fully committed to it, she never shies away from taking a break from ancillary situations that can trigger her anxiety, like press conferences, for example. “There can be moments for any of us where we are dealing with issues behind the scenes,” she wrote in a recent op-ed published in Time magazine. “Each of us as humans is going through something on some level.” If these words don’t normalise mental health, then what will?
Shaheen BhattMost Indians knew Shaheen Bhatt as actor Alia Bhatt’s sister, until the moment she came forward bravely to share her lifelong struggle with depression. Bhatt, who has also written a book about her journey, I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier, revealed that she has been battling depression since she was 12 years old. She has always maintained that “depression is different for everyone who experiences it”, busting one of the biggest myths around the condition that everyone has the same symptoms. If you haven’t given her book, or one of her inspiring talks, a chance yet, do so now.
Demi LovatoFrom eating disorders and bipolar disorder to suicidal thoughts and substance abuse, this pop star has battled it all while being absolutely frank about her experiences. Not only is Lovato actively fighting the stigma against mental illness, she’s also a leader of an American awareness initiative, Be Vocal: Speak Up For Mental Health. “If you are struggling to with a mental health condition, you may not be able to see it as clearly right away, but please don’t give up—things can get better,” she says on the initiative’s website. “You are worthy of more and there are people who can help. Asking for help is a sign of strength.”
Anna ChandyMany know Anna Chandy as the chairperson of the board of Padukone’s Live Laugh Love foundation, and she has indeed played a key role in making this initiative extremely effective in break taboos about mental health. But more than that, Chandy is India’s first supervising and training transactional analyst, has a specialisation in counselling, and is certified in art therapy and neuro-linguistic programming. Breaking myths about counselling and therapy is something Chandy does for a living, making both more accessible to all. “Somehow, people even till today relate to counselling as you go to someone and get advice,” she said in a 2017 interview. “I believe your shoes are yours—you can never advise someone on how to lead their own life.”
Dr Prabha ChandraAs the head of the psychiatry department at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Dr Chandra is one of the greatest mental health and psychiatry experts in the country today. Apart from serving as an advisor to the WHO and UNAIDS, she is also the secretary of the International Association of Women’s Mental Health. Her immense body of work includes articles and videos which spread awareness about key issues like mental wellness during pregnancy, eating disorders, body image issues, and depression.