Going Places, Changing Minds

Hey everyone. I hope you are doing well. I know I have been missing for a while now on the blog but there is good reason behind it. I have been visiting many events either as a guest or an attendee to spread awareness of mental health. I thought I should write this to share my experiences and what I learned from these events. I was invited as a guest speaker in Guru Jambeshwar University to speak on Depression and it was truly a learning experience for me.  

Changing Minds

On September 2, 2019, I visited the Guru Jambeshwar University in Hisar, Haryana (my hometown). GJU is one of the biggest universities in Haryana and it was an honour to speak to the students of Haryana School of Business. I expected a gathering of 100-150. I was nervous because for me it was a new experience to speak in front of people I didn’t know at all. I had given speeches before to class mates but this was something completely different. I had spent a week preparing my presentation to make it the best way I could. Ultimately the day arrived. I got ready and left for a new challenge. A new beginning.

The students settled in. I chit chatted with some people I knew from school. I was introduced formally to everyone there. I began. But before that, I asked how many people thought depression was an illness and only 20 hands went up.

A challenge lay ahead.

Challenge Accepted

I knew that my audience was going to be one that didn’t consider depression as an illness and probably thought it was a synonym for sadness. It was going to be a challenge, but I knew I could change some minds if I prepared well enough. I feel that these are the audience the mental health educators/activists /whatever-you-prefer should focus on.

For the presentation, I decided to focus on stories of people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses. I kept some positive stories and some stories that ended with death. Some stories were about the rich and the famous while others were about the common man and how he can have a mental illness too. People relate better to stories and activities. They are essential to making someone think and question their beliefs. The fact that I managed to keep their attention for 1-1.5 hours straight reassured me that my plan was working.

After my presentation ended, there was the customary round of applause, but the real success of a presentation is always in the questions that are asked after. The queries show what the audience is thinking, it shows that they were listening and that too attentively. I was afraid there would be no question. Gratefully, the barrage of questions came in.

The questions I was asked were very grounded as well. The people were interested in knowing how depression can be treated. They wanted to know how they could help their friends who might be struggling or if they were themselves at risk for depression. It wasn’t a question about what the problem is but more about how we can solve it and that was something I really liked about everyone there. Some people wanted to know more about my story as well. One very enthusiastic man wanted to know how I had attempted suicide, but I had to withhold that information on ethical grounds.

Soon, the event ended. I had some people come up to me and ask how they could get in touch personally. A woman came up to me and told me she had deleted her suicide note from her social media accounts after the lecture. She had realized that it could influence someone else. The Director of the institute addressed the gathering as well. He said, “I don’t see so many people in our classes as I see here.”

Before leaving, I asked once again.

“How many of you think depression is an illness?”

The moment of truth was here. This was going to decide whether I had a long lasting influence on the people here or not. I waited with bated breath.

Every single hand went up. All ~200 of them

I felt relieved and happy. I said to myself,

“Challenge completed.”

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