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  • Writer's pictureSruti Mohapatra

Mental Illness

My introduction to mental illness was through Rebati Nani. She was my piusi’s (father’s sister in Odia) sister-in-law. In their huge ancestral home, we had to always cross the kitchen, then turn left, quickly race across rooms two and three, and reach our safe haven in rooms four and five, which belonged to my piusi and piusa. The reason for the race was because she, Rabati Nani lived in room two. Her door was always open and we had been instructed to never peep, never talk or never look at her. She was called “pagali” meaning mad, by all. Pagali would beat you, will hurt you, were the instructions given to us. The only sounds we heard were loud crying, very loud banging of her head on the walls or abuses in colloquial Odia when she was dragged to the huge pond at the back of the house which was lined with a series of 12 bathrooms, for a bath or cleaning. Aee, granny, her mother and my piusa’s mother, was the only one who went to her room and could touch her. Once we stopped frequenting their house, the memory also faded, until I was into the disability movement in 1990s. I explained to my piusi, about the tortuous way everyone had treated Rebati Nani. That with care, she could have lived a life of less pain. But then it was too late, Rebati Nani had died, lying in a file of filth, two months after her mother died.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental illness as a health issue that is associated with changes in thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others.

According to RPwD Act 2016, mental illness means a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, but does not include retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, especially characterised by sub-normality of intelligence.

Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.

Types of Mental Illnesses (The Banyan)

Common mental Illnesses

  • Sub-clinical depression or dysthymia

  • Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, OCD, PTSD

Severe mental illnesses

  • Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders

  • Paranoid and other psychotic disorders

  • Bipolar disorder (hypomanic, manic, depressive and mixed)

  • Major depressive disorder

  • Suicidal behaviour

According to NIMHANS, it is estimated that about 7% of the population suffers from mental disorders. Adding together all major and minor psychiatric disorders the lifetime prevalence would be about 25%. According to the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, the prevalence of those currently suffering from mental illnesses, excluding tobacco use disorders, in the adult Indian population is nearly 10.6% which roughly amounts to 150 million Indians.

According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental illnesses constitute one-sixth of all health-related disorders and India accounted for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder burden. The treatment gap, which is defined as the prevalence of mental illnesses and the proportion of patients that get treatment, is over 70 per cent. WHO also predicts that by 2020, roughly 20 per cent of India will suffer from mental illnesses. And to cater to this demographic, we have less than 4,000 mental health professionals. 


World Health Organisation: Mental Health, The World Health Organisation offers a lot of information on mental health and its effects worldwide

Understanding Mental Disorders, The American Psychiatric Association describes different psychiatric disorders based on their definitions in the latest Diagnostic Statical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

Learning More About Mental Illness, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, USA has resources on warning signs, mental health conditions, statistics on mental health, treatment, research, infographics and policy

Caring for Someone with a Mental Illness, This UK organisation shares ways in which you can support someone with a mental illness


Birla, N. (2019). Mental health in India: 7.5% of the country affected; less than 4,000 experts available. Economic Times.

RPwD Act. (2016). The Schedule – Specified Disability -

Retrieved 05 Apr 2020.


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