Being alone in India is, I imagine, very different from living alone in the US or the UK. In a country of 1.2 billion people, you’re never really alone. You’re expected to talk to your neighbours, your colleagues, your parents and the family friends that live just three train stops away from you fairly regularly. Privacy comes second to family, and social constructs trump respect for boundaries.
I sound ungrateful. I’m really not. India’s social culture prevents a lot of mental health issues that plague Western societies. It is easier to meet people and make friends in India than anywhere else. On the flip side, this also means that mental health issues go unobserved and undiagnosed for a dangerously long time.
Loneliness is in the mind. It rarely depends on how many people you actually meet. You can be lonely in the middle of a crowd, and socially fulfilled completely alone. What matters most is whether you understand that you need help and whether you can get the help that you need.
I was privileged to be a part of a mental health study recently. As I was researching for the project, I realised that there is hardly any work done on mental health in India. There are no statistics. Young professionals cannot allow themselves to seek help, and students who approach their parents are mostly ridiculed, because people don’t think that mental problems exist.
This year has been assigned to combat depression by the WHO. For my part, I’ll be talking to as many people as I can to remove the stigma of approaching a professional. Being more social and talking to more people does not combat loneliness. Pushing it under the carpet does not cure depression.