Opinion
The BJP MP lashed out at the Congress’ party’s decision to appoint Priyanka Gandhi as the general secretary for UP (East) by claiming that “she has bipolar disorder and beats up people.”

Dear Mr Subramanian Swamy,

I get it, you’re a political figure who needs to come up with "snappy" and “eye-grabbing” retorts against your competitors. However, when you do so at the expense of an entire community of people who are struggling with mental health issues, you are further propagating the stigma and discrimination of those who face such problems. So I have a request for you, and all others who hold similar positions of influence. If you aren’t going to aid the cause, then please stop adding to the existing stigma around mental health disorders.

See, the problem is, though as a society we seem “liberated” and “woke,” there is still a lot of difficulty in understanding mental health. This may largely be due to the fact that people believe that mental health is related to a mindset and not an actual disorder which needs care and attention, just like any other medical issue. Regardless of the reason(s), it’s high time that people stop making statements about mental illness and those struggling with the same. Because really, it’s time we got rid of such outdated notions of mental health.

You claimed that Priyanka Gandhi “has bipolar disorder and beats up people.” While this is hardly the first (dare we assume not the last?) outlandish thing that we have heard from you, I feel the need to break down why this is damaging to someone who may actually be living with such a condition. First of all, it seems that while people are becoming increasingly familiar with terms such as ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety,’ conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are still largely misunderstood. People who have been diagnosed with any of these issues may struggle on occasion with living a normal life, but to insinuate that they are downright incapable of living healthy lives is absolutely absurd! Contrary to your statement, a person living with bipolar disorder doesn’t “beat up people” at the flip of some switch in their brain. Bipolar disorder is also called ‘manic depression’ and is characterised by low and high phases. This causes people living with the same to have changes in levels of energy and activity levels, some mood changes and may even affect how their day to day life works. However, this absolutely does not mean that they are not functional or that the disorder can’t be managed. Like most of these conditions, bipolar disorder too is very much manageable with the right care.

In fact, there are several people who have spoken out about living with such conditions and have done great work in their fields. Take for example the #MeToo movement that spread throughout the country last year. (You too had spoken out about the movement being a “good thing,” as I recall). Journalist and mental health activist Sandhya Menon was one such individual at the forefront of this movement. Sandhya, who has spoken openly about living with bipolar disorder, has been a backbone and inspiration for many people who felt encouraged to come forward and share their stories. If you take a moment to reflect on the Me Too wave of change, and the discussions it opened up, its impact on society has been unquestionably huge. And yes, someone who lives with bipolar disorder has been a significant part of that change. She isn’t the only one. We’ve all heard of several celebrities in recent times coming forward to talk about their mental health problems. Deepika Padukone struggled with depression, Ileana D’Cruz battled body dysmorphic disorder, J K Rowling channeled her depression into her writing, and so many others.

So take a step back and please rethink your political retorts, because mental health issues, while challenging and difficult, are certainly manageable. And, if you don’t know what a particular term means, then I beg of you to please stop using such words to insinuate insults. It's hurtful and further discriminates an already stigmatised population in the community. We have entered 2019, and it’s time that we stopped treating mental health like the metaphorical elephant in the room. It’s here, it exists, and yes, help is available.

Let me bring to your attention that the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated in 2018 that India happens to be the “most depressed country in the world." Instead of taking jibes at mental health and using it to further your political motivations, maybe try and do something to impact the community in a positive manner and use your public platform to spread awareness about it? 

I’d like to end on another note that irked me (and dare I say that I wasn’t the only one?). I get it, you are a political figure and are required to take strong stances against your opponents and in support of your beliefs. Fine. But enough is enough, can we please stop using medical diagnoses as insults? It makes for a poor choice of political rhetoric and does nothing to further your cause, except to showcase your ignorance.

Views expressed are the author's own.

Read this thread

 If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help.

Tamil Nadu:

State health department suicide helpline number - 104

Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in TN)

Telangana:  

Telangana government suicide prevention toll free no - 104

Roshni- 040-66202000, 66202001

SEVA- 09441778290, 040 - 27504682 (between 9 AM and 7 PM)

Karnataka:

Sahai : 24-hour helpline numbers: 080- 65000111, 080-65000222

Kerala:

Maithri helpline - 0484-2540530

Chaithram helpline: 0484-2361161

Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.

Andhra Pradesh:

Life Suicide Prevention Helpline No.78930-78930

Roshni -

Helpline 1: 9166202000

Helpline 2: 9127848584

All India:

AASRA

022 2754 6669