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Mental Health and Illness: is it all in your head?

Feeling like something is wrong with oneself, while not knowing where to point your finger and say, ‘this is it’, can bring up discomfort and pile on to the distress you may already be experiencing. This may happen, when you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed, which makes it harder for one to think clearly and ascertain what you need at that given moment. At other times, there may also be a sense of anxiety, or even a feeling of doom (particularly for individuals living with chronic illnesses) associated with the thought of asking for support in understanding what’s really going on with your mind/body.

A question to ask yourself as you try to resolve this juncture may be this: what is making it difficult for me to realize my needs?

Another question to introspect on might go something like this: If it is all in my head, does that make my problems less real? Less valid? Or otherwise less worthy of my, or others’, care and attention?

If yes, then what makes them so?

A lot many people in a lot many countries in the world, including India, hold certain beliefs and values that often are not able to recognize or support the legitimacy of mental health and related concerns. These beliefs and values are often organized into a system that eventually ends up defining what is acceptable, and often, what is ‘normal’, and by extension, albeit often a more vague one, what isn’t. It can be considerably difficult to raise questions to such systems if you’re born into them, as they do exist for some important reasons – primarily, they help individuals make sense of a world that may often seem senseless, and provide a foundation on which one can form human connections.

As helpful as these systems can be, they sometimes may not be able to work or hold space for individual concerns, and in some instances, for entire communities. For the individual, the idea of what we perceive and interpret as ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ may effectively become redundant. Even at the community level, as is previously mentioned, the definition of normality can shift drastically.

In the context of mental health, these cultural systems have sometimes been found to be related to and even contribute to the stigma around mental health. This stigma in turn, is one of (if not the) major barriers to increasing access to mental health support, especially in low- and middle-income countries, such as ours.

How exactly would a certain belief do so much, though? Well, multiple research studies* have found that culturally relevant beliefs affect our behavior. Picture this: in a community which denegrades the act of self-disclosure (the act of revealing personal information about oneself, as is common in therapy), such acts may likely be frowned upon, or pushed down in some way within oneself or the community. It may also be associated with weakness, or considered as an announcement to the world that one is incapable to dealing with one’s own problems. Some members may find it threatening to their status within the community, and choose to not talk about themselves despite a deterioration of their own/family member’s health due to non-disclosure, probably because the cost of seeking help is too high for them.

The act of talking about one problem’s with others does in reality have a sense of stigma related to it in many South Asian countries*, and beliefs related to this stigma shape the language we use, the way(s) we seek help, and what we think has caused a symptom/condition – all relating to any given mental health concern.

In a nutshell: A belief is a thought. Thoughts reside in the mind. Any process of perception (taking in information from our environment), interpretation (making money of the information we have) or decision-making (deciding on the most relatively favourable outcome considering the context) is then, in effect, all in our minds. Our thoughts hold power over our emotions, choices and behaviours and as such, dictate how we conduct ourselves in the world. Your experiences may also impact your body along with your belief systems, in the form of sensations and feelings. With this professional opinion, I would ask you to think back to the original question we started our pondering with: what if it is all in your mind?

As such, mental health concerns and illness can be caused and influenced by many factors. Hence any feelings, thoughts, hallucinations, and fears that a person with mental illness might experience are not meant to be taken as imagined, as they are very real to the person experiencing them.


This article includes opinions expressed by a mental health expert. But we were humans long before we trained as professionals, and so are always looking to learn better! If you found that any of the above is inaccurate, irrelevant or unhelpful, or would like to suggest ways to make this article more helpful in any way, please let us know in the comments below.

Read the article, and wondering what’s next ? 
  • I want to take action now: If reading the above information has led you to decide that what you need is professional help, here’s a little bit about how our professionals work in case you would like to schedule a free consultation with us: our professionals’ work is based on a ‘recovery-oriented’ model, which believes in providing a space where each individual feels in charge of their own meaning of recovery from mental health concerns/illness. The aim of support isn’t just to reduce symptoms or to go back to the level of functioning that was, but rather to learn to emphasize one’s resilience and to hold space for those in distress as one is attempting to achieve short- and long-term recovery/life goals
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  • I want more help about how to broach the topic of my mental health with friend/loved one as/before I book a session

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