In Conversation with Bhavika Mehta

Bhavika is a final year sociology and literature student, and the founder-director of The Happy Company, a volunteer based organisation working towards reducing mental health issues in our society. She is passionate about poetry, food, and public speaking. Buy her pizza and recite Faiz to her, and you’re a friend.

What is your take on the stigma associated with having a mental illness in India where it is considered equivalent to being mentally unstable?
Firstly, acknowledging that there is a certain stigma that exists around mental health is very important. It is also important to understand the demography where this stigma mainly exists. Two generations before mental health illness was visible only in the form of ‘madness’ as they didn’t pay much attention to emotions and emotional well-being. Denying the existence of other mental health problems, like depression and anxiety was simple, but ailments like psychosis which show much clearer symptoms couldn’t be denied. Thus, for them, mental health meant being unstable. Sadly, our education system doesn’t really include mental health, thus it has been difficult to change the perceptions of the older generations. We have access to the internet and a lot more resources, a privilege they never had. We should use these resources rightfully and spread awareness and kindness, be sensitive and practice empathy.

How can Mental Health be made more accessible and affordable in India?
Educational institutions, government institutions, and corporate institutions should have a mandatory counselor to talk to those in distress or bad mental state. It is also important to not only invest in curing mental ailments but also in building healthier minds. Thus, educational reforms are necessary.

What is your advice to parents on ‘How to initiate a conversation regarding mental health’?
I think maximum parents, especially those in their 50s deny the existence of mental health issues, in such a case a child should initiate the conversation by picking examples their parents could resonate with. Parents on their part should constantly affirm their children that they are in a safe space and would try their best to understand them, even if they don’t understand them sometimes.

How has been your experience as a mental health advocate? What are the most common misconceptions surrounding mental health in India?
My experience has been weird, very often I realise my privilege by seeing the sorrows that exist around me, a lot of times I find a lot of ungrateful people as well, so it’s a mixture. The most common misconception is that therapy is only for those who are mentally ill. In reality, therapy is a place where you can know yourself better, and work towards a better version of yourself.

Can you comment on the present status of Mental Health in India in the student age group?
I don’t think it’s my place to comment on behalf of all the students, but I really think we need counselors in our colleges and schools.

What according to you is the biggest hurdle that people face while accessing professional help concerning mental health?
It’s very subjective, I think in our age and society it is about affording therapy not finding the right therapist.

The media has glorified and ‘romanticised’ the idea of having a mental illness. To a larger extent, even teenagers romanticised the idea of mental suffering. What is your opinion on this? How is it harmful?
The way popular media portray mental health issues is very problematic. And I think a lot of people aim to create awareness about mental health and end up romanticising it because even though their intention is pure, their way of putting it across might be problematic. It’s harmful because it is promoting self-diagnosis and normalisation of mental health issues. We need to understand the difference between normalising it and spreading awareness about it, I don’t mean that we should not normalise a mental health issue, I mean normalising having a mental health issue when you haven’t got it by self-diagnosing it.

What sources would you recommend for people to educate themselves around the subject of ‘Mental-Health’?
I don’t want to quote any source that I don’t verify regularly, I will only speak for my organization here –

You also do wonderful poetry. For many people, poetry is a way to express their feelings and sometimes vent out suppressed emotions. Do you think poetry can be therapeutic? If yes, how so?
I think any form of art is therapeutic as it helps us vent out emotions and channelize them better. Art forms can be a coping mechanism, for me, poetry is a coping mechanism, to someone else, it could be sketching, or drawing. I feel art is necessary to help us feel humane.

Do you feel that within our friend circle, sometimes we tend to therapize our friends by giving them unprofessional advice and by invalidating whatever they are feeling? When do you think is the right time when there should be a professional intervention if someone is suffering from any Mental Health Issue?
I think we should always be kind to our friends, help them figure out their emotions but NEVER ADVICE them. The only advice we should give to a friend is to see a therapist if we think they need one. Other than that, don’t take anyone’s decision for them, or even have a say in it because it can backfire on you.

In today’s world, the idea of self-care is gaining a lot of traction. How would you define ‘Self-Care’?
To me, self-care is taking care of myself the same amount that my mother cares for me. And I am not speaking for everyone, as I am lucky to have parents who love and care for me unconditionally, but I know a lot of people don’t, to me, they are a benchmark, I have to take care of myself the way my mum would.

Can you tell us how you’re providing a safe space for people to vent out to with ‘The Happy Company’? Is there any visible positive change that you have noticed?
We provide trained student volunteers who empathise with the person who reaches out to us. Every person who gives positive feedback makes me feel that we’re making a change and creating a difference.

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