Friday, April 28, 2017

Confronting the Stigma

By Sophia Paige-Brink

A little girl was recently discovered in the forests of northern India - reportedly to have lived with monkeys. A Jungle Book fantasy? Don’t be quick to assume so.

 Doctors found that she has mental and physical disabilities. And officials believe, with most details of this situation, it’s likely she was recently abandoned by caretakers. It’s a horrific story, yet, a story not unique in a society ridden with taboo and stigma against mental illness.

There’s little data on mental illnesses and neurological disorders in South Asian countries. South Asian culture is a culture that often prides itself with perfection. Sons and daughters are raised accordingly to gender stereotypes - men will be breadwinners and women will be submissive wives. Education, money, and social power is prized. However, when sons or daughters fall into the depths of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and/or any other mental or neurological disorder - shame, shame, and shame.

Mental illness is a taboo subject in South Asian communities. It’s a social pressure to conform to the standards of perfection. And mental illness is much more “shameful” for a daughter than a son for parents fear her marriage prospects are destroyed. South Asian children with mental illnesses are frequently abused and neglected - sometimes chained and beaten, sometimes thrown out on the streets. Even so, mental health stigma is not restricted only to lower-income communities. Mental health stigma is inclusive of all class levels. People who suffer from mental illnesses in upper-class societies are also abused and neglected. And some people will commit self-injurious behaviors or suicide to escape the social pressures of perfection.

What’s the solution to combat such horrific practices? Education. Village to village and city to city, parents must be educated on mental health stigma and taboo. And intervention. There is little to no mental health care in parts of the world where mental health is so stigmatized.

This little girl was very lucky to have been found alive. However, millions of disabled children are lost, abused, and neglected around the world. When will the stigma break?


Safi, M. (2017, April 08). Indian girl found in jungle was not living with monkeys, officials say. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from