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The following story features Vaidehi, a participant in our Deconstructing Stigma: Changing Attitudes About Mental Health public awareness campaign. Told through the eyes of its participants, this campaign boldly challenges the misconceptions of what those with mental illness look like and is intended to spark conversation. To learn more, visit DeconstructingStigma.org.
“I think the biggest problem in my culture is that mental illness is not thought of like cancer or diabetes or any other serious illness. It’s considered to be ‘all in your head.’ Of course, we know that’s not true. Beyond that, so many people are more concerned with their reputations and social standing. They don’t realize that if you don’t help somebody with a mental illness, they could very well die.”
Vaidehi started experiencing anxiety and depression while in high school, and those problems grew more severe when she went to college. She joined a dance team during her freshman year, hoping to find a supportive “family” of friends. However, she came to feel isolated from the group, particularly after she became the victim of rape. In time, she began to withdraw. She skipped classes and avoided social situations. She also began to lose an unhealthy amount of weight.
Still, it took her years to discuss her feelings or ask for help. As a woman of Indian descent, she feels that misunderstandings about mental health in South Asian culture were a major roadblock on her road to recovery.
“Things are changing, but change is very slow. In South Asian culture, there’s still a lack of understanding about mental illness, and many people—no matter what their generation—still don’t want to talk about it.”
Talking about her anxiety and depression—specifically, writing about her experiences and feelings—has helped Vaidehi turn her life around.
“One day, after I’d been crying all day, I found a journal that someone had given me on my 16th birthday. That night, I made my first journal entry. When I started writing, a lot of the bitterness I had about the past started to turn into acceptance.”
Since then, writing has become a central tool in Vaidehi’s recovery, as well as the foundation of a successful and growing career. In college, she began writing for the online magazine Odyssey. She currently works as a writer and editor at Brown Girl magazine, focusing on human rights and mental health issues. Her writing has also been featured in the Washington Post and HuffPost.
“Writing helped bring about this change in me. I owe much to writing and the difference it’s made in my life.”
Today, Vaidehi is eager to help others who are struggling with mental illness. In addition to her writing, she works with two South Asian mental health nonprofits: MannMukti, where she is the development chair of outreach, and IAM SHAKTI, where she serves as lead for creative content, public relations, and strategy. She wants others to speak out and ask for help—regardless of what their culture or society may think.
“One big problem that everyone who’s struggling with mental illness always has is they wonder what other people are going to say about them. It doesn’t matter what other people say about you. Perception is how you see yourself, not how others see you. If you have to get help, you should get it, no matter what the world says. Your feelings are valid.”