As much stigma as there is in American homes regarding mental illness, it’s much worse in other countries. Gayathri Ramprasad grew up in Bangalore, India, where traditional Hindu culture has no concept of depression. There was no doctor to diagnose her anxiety disorder as an adolescent girl nor medicine to treat the condition.
Now, as founder and president of ASHA International, she is an agent of hope for persons of all cultures that suffer from depression and anxiety. Ramprasad has just published her memoir, “Shadows in the Sun: Healing From Depression and Finding the Light Within,” an inspiring story that provides a first-of-its-kind cross-cultural lens to mental illness and documents the way she drew on both her rich Hindu heritage and Western medicine to find healing.
I have the pleasure of interviewing her here. You can find more information about her at www.gayathiramprasad.com.
1. Your memoir does a masterful job at depicting two very different cultures: that of India and of America. How do the two cultures differ in their view of mental illness?
When it comes to matters of mental health, culture counts! Cultural perceptions about mental illness, treatment and psychosocial rehabilitation can mean the difference between sanity and insanity, illness and wellness.
Some people in India perceive mental illness to be a curse caused by the evil eye or demonic spirits, others believe it is a sign of weakness, and yet others believe they are neurobiological disorders. In America, most people believe that mental illnesses are neurobiological disorders, while some believe they are a sign of weakness.
However, it is important to remember that America is a melting pot of immigrants whose perceptions about mental illness is shaped by their cultural legacies. And, while each culture has its misperceptions of mental illness which can deter people from seeking lifesaving treatment and support. Inherent in every culture are a multitude of pathways to health and healing. As a global community, it is time we dispel myths and misperceptions about mental illness, and harness the healing power of holistic wellness.
What is my personal view of mental illness? I believe it is a human experience on the continuum of illness to wellness caused by a complex web of genetic, developmental, neurobiological, psychological, social, environmental and other factors. And, with early intervention and effective treatment, a whole lot of self-determination, hope, hard work, love and social support, people can recover and thrive.
2. How would you advise a young Indian boy or girl to get help for a mood disorder? How would that differ from an American youth?
First and foremost, I would tell the young Indian boy or girl to know that they are not alone, and they have nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. I’d tell them that there is hope and a whole community of people that can help them on their road to recovery. And, I’d connect them to wellness resources in their community, including peer mentors.
When it comes to recovery, seeing is believing. There is something phenomenally powerful for a person in the throes of mental illness to meet another person who can, not only empathize with their pain, but provide evidence that recovery is possible. And I’d offer the same advice to a young boy or girl in America.
However, the greater challenge is to educate our youth and their families and educators around the world about the early signs and symptoms of mental illness, and encourage them to seek life-saving treatment and supports. And, it is just as important to create communities of compassion and inclusion where our youth are provided the love and support they need to thrive. I realize the difficult challenges we face – our struggling economy, budget cuts, and lack of affordable, accessible, culturally-responsive care. Yet, I stand confident in our ability to address and overcome these difficulties with unity, ingenuity and resilience. If not for us, we have to do it for our children’s sake.
3. What are some of the tools that you use to stay anxiety-free?
Pranayama — a deep breathing technique, transcendental meditation, yoga, journaling, exercise, gardening and cognitive behavioral therapy are some of the many tools I use to stay anxiety-free. Although I was born and raised in India where pranayama, transcendental meditation and yoga originated, it is ironic that I needed to travel across the world, and nearly lose my sanity and life, before American teachers taught me these skills, the practice of which has transformed my life.
4. What is the message of hope you would like to convey in your memoir?
Where there is hope, there is life. Yet, most of us struggling with mental health issues lose hope — psychologically, socially and spiritually. It is my sincere prayer that my story will let people know that they are not alone is their suffering. There is hope, and help. People can recover and thrive.
I also want to let people know that even in our deepest despair, we should fear not the darkness in our life, for it is in our darkest hour that we will discover the light within. Inherent in each of us is the light of love, wisdom, courage and compassion, which empowers us to transform our life and the lives of those we touch.
Published originally on Sanity Break.
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Borchard, T. (2014). Mental Illness Across Cultures: An Interview with Gayathri Ramprasad. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/03/26/mental-illness-across-cultures-an-interview-with-gayathri-ramprasad/