Soni Razdan: Mental illness is not a taboo. There should be no shame in talking about it

While I was unaware that Shaheen was suffering from depression, I had started to sense something was not right. About a year before she actually opened up to me, I had asked her, “Is there anything that you need, Shaheen? You must feel free to speak. Don’t hesitate.” I was literally shooting in the dark as I had no clue what depression was and what it felt like. There was no conversation around mental health when I was growing up.

After this conversation, Shaheen took a year before telling me that she needed help. She said, “I’m not as happy as I would like to be. I can be in a better phase, and I think I need help to get there.” It was not just sadness or a feeling of listlessness or being lazy or unmotivated — it was much more serious than that. She couldn’t stop crying; she didn’t want to come out of her room and just wanted to stay inside the bathroom. I was shocked and shaken. Such things are very scary for a parent. But I kept reassuring her that there’s a problem and we are going to a doctor to get it treated. We immediately consulted an expert.

The treatment for mental health issues is not ‘one size fits all’. There are trials and errors in the process and myriad coping mechanisms involved. You have to find the right fit for you, and in that process you consult different experts as they offer different perspectives, advice, and help. Mental health is a journey of discovery. Recognising that you are suffering from an illness and seeking help to deal with it is just the beginning of that journey.

It was hard to see Shaheen go through so much. The fact that I was unable to take her pain away would upset me as a mother. I didn’t know that she had suicidal thoughts, and the fact that it took her so long to communicate her feelings to me broke my heart.

While we are in a more peaceful space now, the journey wasn’t easy. Shaheen has had to go through her own struggle to find the right treatment. I was just being a proactive parent and giving her the support she needed. Today, I am so much more relaxed because Shaheen has been communicating it to others and sharing her story.

My advice to parents is that if your child says that they are not feeling alright, don’t take it lightly. Don’t tell your child that it will all be fine tomorrow or that they are just creating a fuss or that they need to relax and the feeling will go away. Don’t take it lightly or confuse the signs of depression with puberty related mood swings. Take your child to a doctor immediately. It might be nothing, but chances are that it could be something that they are dealing with emotionally and need help with. We, as parents, have to create a space and environment where our children feel comfortable opening up to us. Mental illness is not a taboo and there should be no shame in talking about it, or seeking help.

– As told to Amrita.Prasad@timesgroup.com