Interviewed by Sai Donepudi

We had the amazing opportunity of interviewing Chinmayee Aphale, a psychologist working for an organization that provides counseling support for corporate employees. She also is an advocate for mental health and is the founder of her own NPO called Saarthi. This interview goes deep into potentially triggering subjects such as depression and suicide.

1. Please introduce yourself, tell us a little about what you do and tell us what mental health means to you.

Hi! My name is Chinmayee Aphale. I’m a Psychologist and I work at an organization that provides Counseling support for Corporate employees. I’m also a part of a few initiatives that work for spreading awareness and improving society’s mental wellbeing. Mental health has always been a very important part for me since my adolescence. Unfortunately there was extremely less awareness about the existence of mental health and mental well-being during the time I was growing up. Therefore I genuinely feel that we should proactively advocate and prioritize mental health more than ever now.

2. What encouraged you to pursue mental health as a profession?

During our Bachelor’s degree we had a subject called Positive Psychology. I learnt about and got extremely fascinated by concepts and theories of human resilience, personal growth and psychological well-being. I started applying some of the principles to overcome the challenges I was facing then and it worked wonders for me. I then understood that it was something that was also going to benefit me personally as well I then decided to pursue it as a profession. 

3. Do you think that movies, along with other media, have sensationalized mental illness to a dangerous extent? 

Yes.I think it is getting sensationalised in the media because it is not being looked at as something equivalent to physical health. Would you sensationalise a physical disease? Probably not. Sensationalisation also occurs due to misinterpretation, lack of knowledge and inaccurate representation. For a very long time, societies did not provide safe spaces for people to open up about their psychological struggles due to the stigma. So when people did start opening up, there was less acceptance and more judgement. That might also have contributed to it.

4. There was a recent death, one that was suspected to be suicide, that shook the Bollywood industry. Based on the evidence that has recently been revealed regarding substance abuse and manipulation, do you believe that Sushant Singh Rajput showed signs of depression and could have been suicidal?

 I don’t know and can’t say if Sushant Singh Rajput was suffering from any mental illness. We cannot just see him on-screen and speculate whether he was showing any symptoms or was suicidal. Unfortunately due to politics and different personal motives, people are not even entertaining the possibility of Sushant Singh Rajput having suffered from mental illness. While there are many complicated angles in this death, it is important to know that mental illness does not discriminate between success, gender, age or fame. The antidote to Suicide is hope. It’s important to invest more energy in becoming someone’s hope in their challenging times than to speculate certain outcomes. 

5. Do you believe that suicide is usually planned or rather impulsive? How can one escalate from performing self harm to deciding to end their life?

Suicide is something that a person considers as their final option to deal with the difficulty at hand. People who indulge in self harming behaviors often say that they use it as a temporary relief mechanism. Self harm is a red flag. Sometimes it also indicates a potential suicide. It needs immediate intervention. If multiple self harming behaviors are ignored or belittled, it can aggravate into a possibility of suicide. 

6. Do you believe that “mental health” is the same as happiness or just an absence of mental illness?

 Mental Health consists of a combination of one’s thoughts, emotions and actions. Mental health definitely does not mean only happiness. Being mentally healthy means experiencing all emotions with dignity and maintaining the homeostasis. Mental health does not just mean absence of mental illness. It also means presence of healthy coping styles to deal with difficult emotions. 

7. Do you believe that teenagers/young adults are more vulnerable to mental illness? If so, what may be the reason for that?

Teenage is when the body and mind starts evolving rapidly. A lot of existential curiosities also start developing during the same time. It is a vulnerable period since the personality also is not fully developed. Teenagers in today’s times are more prone to Social Media and Media in general. Using Internet and Social Media as prime source of knowledge can be very unhealthy. During this time, things like unfulfilled expectations, socio-economic disparities, issues related to one’s self-worth, lack of access to emotional support can contribute to emotional turmoil.

8. How does toxic masculinity contribute to the wellbeing of people who consider themselves to be male?

 In patriarchal cultures, toxic masculinity impacts almost all walks of life. Toxic masculinity interferes with one of the biggest things we as humans strive for- freedom. It Imposes strict rules, undermines all other genders and creates a hierarchy where there is no space for growth and acceptance. It interferes with mental health to such an extent where people feel it’s almost criminal to voice out against it. This gaslighting further leads to believing that it’s us who need to change in order to ‘fit in’ instead of the system becoming more open and accepting. 

9. Do you believe that the stigma surrounding mental illness has decreased in South Asian communities? If so, what may have caused the progression?

Speaking for India, the stigma has reduced considerably but only within certain age ranges. One reason for it is social media. Young people tend to have more access to social media. Since it provides a global picture, it provides people with a wider range of interaction with different experiences & opinions (as compared to those who do not have access to social media). This of course has many exceptions. I think there’s still a long way to go in order to achieve wholesome understanding and openness to talk about mental health with everyone around.