#CosmoExclusive: Shama Sikander Talks About Overcoming Bipolar Disorder and Fighting the Urge to Commit Suicide

Mental health. Can we talk about it, please?

Meghna Sharma

According to a 2015 WHO study, titled Depression And Other Common Mental Disorders, over 5 crore Indians suffer from depression and over 3 crore have anxiety disorders. Another research by National Mental Health Survey states that over 15 crore people across India are in need of mental health care interventions—a staggering figure! Statistics speak louder than words. Mental disorders are a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. And even more so in India, given the stigma surrounding it.

As a nation, we are under-equipped to handle mental health issues on such a large scale. “Currently, we have only 3,500 psychiatrists for millions of Indians suffering from mental illness. India specifically has over 300% shortage of psychologists. Until now, less than 1-2% of the health budget has been dedicated to mental health, in comparison to 10-12% in other countries,” says Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Department of Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare.

But the bigger problem might be that we simply don’t want to talk about mental health, preferring to brush issues like anxiety, depression, and panic attacks under the ‘I’m okay’ carpet. Not only does that decrease the quality of life, but the reason it’s critical to talk about mental health is because it can save lives! “Spreading awareness about the importance of psychological health, just like physical health, will help reduce the stigma and the ignorance towards it,” says Delhi-based psychologist Harsheen K Arora.

By sharing the story of her struggle with bipolar disorder and fight against suicidal thoughts, Shama Sikander is one of the women helping us lift the veil and speak about mental health candidly.

“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about six years ago. I was going through a very, very tough time. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and cry...I had no idea about what was I doing, had no direction or hope. I had a lot of latent anger. I didn’t have the will to live, or think I could survive, as I was perpetually in this state. I felt like this for a year-and-a-half and I knew I had had enough. That’s when I tried to commit suicide by swallowing sleeping pills. Thankfully, my family took me to the hospital just in time and I was saved. It took about four years for my life to return to normalcy.

It was the worst thing that could have happen to me, the worst thing I did to myself. I was dating Alexx O’Nell at the time, and after this episode, he took me to the doctor and helped me understand what I was going through. The doctor told me that I had bipolar disorder. It’s a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks. But therapy really helped me. Talking about your inner turmoil helps you recognise the issues and tackle them. Once I became aware of my illnesses, I had a voice inside me that kept telling me that I’m stronger than I think...that I will survive.

I was in therapy for four years and slowly, things started to look up. Sharing my story and speaking about it made me understand what was bothering me deep down. People are apprehensive about seeking therapy, but it’s just a meditative session where you connect with yourself. And in those sessions, I found out that I had some unresolved childhood issues—and the moment I accepted them and let go of all the pain, I started feeling better.
And sharing it with the world made me feel good, relieved. Any kind of mental illness is a vicious circle of how unaware people end up hurting each other. The more we speak about it, the more awareness we will
create about it. Though I still have moments when I feel vulnerable, now I know I’ll be okay. I don’t feel like I’m in a dark place anymore—therapy really helps you get stronger mentally.

Now I deal with all my problems with a calm mind, and approach every day life with patience. I also feel that sharing my story with the world has made me more fearless and courageous. I have understood myself, and I don’t try to be someone else anymore. I’m more comfortable in my skin, and love both my positives and negatives. I’d just like to leave everyone with one piece of advice: no matter what you’re going through, never be ashamed of it. If you feel like you’re depressed or not feeling too great, share it with someone you trust...seek professional help if need be, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Only you can be your own saviour, no-one else.”

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