Arjun Gupta is an author and a mental health proponent. He is a survivor of severe clinical depression. In 2017, he started writing a blog to sensitize people about mental illness and suicide prevention. In the two years since, his work has been read by 20,000+ people in 100+ countries. His recent book, “Shhh! Don’t Talk About Mental Health” emerged as the Hottest New release on Amazon in Psychology.
Shhh! Don’t Talk About Mental Health is a first-of-its-kind primer of mental health which will give its reader an introduction into the world of Psychology and mental health. Unlike traditional competitors, it is not a self-help book, instead it seeks to inform and make its readers contemplate the severity of the mental health crisis in India through the use of personal stories, case studies, logical reasoning and statistics. Considered by many readers as the ‘best book on mental health’ and a ‘perfect amalgamation of logic and emotions’, this book is sure to make you feel while making you learn things you had never thought about before.
In the last 3 months of 2019, he spoke to 1000+ students about the importance of mental health and wellness in our everyday life trying to destigmatize the notion of mental illnesses. These talks were spread across 5 cities in 3 states. His book was well received by experts and readers alike. Despite his young age of 22, he is an emerging influential voice in the mental health narrative in India.
TBE: Your new book is called Shhh! Don’t Talk about Mental Health. Why is the world so anxious in 2020?
Arjun Gupta: Well there are so many things, it is hard not to be anxious in today’s times. We are surrounded by a politically charged atmosphere in almost every country which effects every single individual. There are only a few countries which can claim to have a politically and economically stable present and near future. Climate change has been taking a toll on its people as well as we see the effects of years of pollution. These are some of the social factors playing a role almost globally.
Psychologically, I believe it is due to the access to immense amount of information that we have today that makes us nervous at times. There is always this dread within us to have more information, to see one more episode, or one more video, or one more song. There is so much content and so much information out there that it is hard not to be glued to a screen at all times. Its not like this wasn’t there earlier. Its just that we have easier access today than we did before. We don’t know where to stop and where to draw the line on ourselves.
TBE: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Arjun Gupta: To be honest, when my first book got published I felt a bit empty. I didn’t feel like I had put my best in the book and that I had considered it more of a side project rather than a contribution to society. And I felt like I could have done more and that is what I did with ‘Shhh!….’. I considered it as the most important project of my life and devoted 1 year to it with full dedication.
That is what changed in my writing process. I wasn’t just doing it for the sake of it anymore. I was doing it for a purpose. To inform people. That invariably had an effect on the topics I chose to write on. I was more holistic, more open minded and more open to ideas that I didn’t agree with. It was a great learning curve and I’m glad it happened. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
TBE: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Arjun Gupta: I hope they take away an idea. What idea it is that they take away is completely up to them but at the core of my book are multiple ideas that I felt needed more exposure. I have done my bit by writing about those ideas and if I have done it well enough, the readers will be able to take away those ideas and apply them to their daily life. I cant share what the ideas were of course. Spoiler Alert! But yeah, if you go through the book, you will come across many ideas and whether you wish to imbibe them is completely up to you.
TBE: Do you think, Mental health and Depression is a global issue?
Arjun Gupta: Certainly. If something effects 1 in 7 people across the world, you can be sure it is a global issue. The thing is mental health isn’t just about depression. There are over 300+ recognized mental disorders today and most of them go undiagnosed because people just don’t wish to visit a doctor with the fear of ‘What will the people say?”. Sometimes, they don’t even think it could be a mental illness that could be treated by a doctor.
Mental disorders and mental distress even take innumerable lives every year and the sad thing is they are simply ignored or pushed under the carpet. Things have been changing in the last few years but it has to be sped up. We cannot continue to have a person dying by suicide every 40 seconds and still be okay with it.
TBE: In the book, you try to explain what depression is. What do you think are the most common misconceptions? How can we approach these problems from the prevention perspective?
Arjun Gupta: There’s just so many that its hard to pinpoint which one is the most common. The one I have heard most often is of people with depression being called weak. That’s actually based in the belief that depression is simply a result of stress. You would be surprised to know how many people think depression is just stress. They are almost considered synonyms. This leads to many faulty assumptions that depression is just sadness or at worse A LOT of sadness.
So to answer your question, there is no ‘most common’ misconception, its just that they are all based on one faulty assumption that depression = sadness= stress. If we have to change this we need to change this assumption. We need more information drives, more awareness campaigns and more open minds to learn these things. Unless someone is willing to listen, no amount of awareness will change their minds.
TBE: You’ve done a lot of research into depression. Were there any facts you learned along the way that particularly shocked you?
Arjun Gupta: Rs. 4. That’s what shocked me. When I learned that India has a budget of Rs 4 per person per year for mental health, it came as a great shock to me. I am hearing that it may be down to Re. 1 by now and it just shows how much work is yet to be done. My research showed me the ugly side of a lot of things. It showed me how hard it is to convince people at times and yet, to see that we have just 4 Rs. Per person just made me stop in my tracks.
TBE: Don’t Talk about Mental Health is a book you can read quite linearly, or simply dip in and out of. How did you approach the researching, writing and ordering of the material?
Arjun Gupta: I have based the structure of this book on ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins. I was reading that book while writing this one and the structure of Dawkins’ arguments, their simplicity and their effectiveness blew my mind away. I also have some easter eggs in there through out the book. Something I have learned from the movies of Zack Snyder (Big Snyder fan).
The ordering part was actually easy because I thought of it as talking to someone who didn’t think mental illnesses are real or that depression is not a real mental illness. The first question anyone has when being told about depression is that ‘These things weren’t there in my time. This is just a new excuse for the kids today to stay away from work’.
“Being able to solve problems alone is good but if you feel like you need support, you do not need to be ashamed to ask for it.”
Alright then! First chapter of the book goes for the 3500-year history of mental illnesses. Then the person may ask, “Okay but then what is mental health?” or “How are these illnesses caused?” and so on and hence the next chapter goes to defining Mental health and Understanding mental illnesses. An Indian reader may ask “So what, what does India have to do with it. Why should I care?” And that brings us to the last chapter of Indian context of mental health. All of this wrapped up with a story of a young boy that I felt people could relate to. His story wraps everything up in a perfect ribbon.
Once I had a clear idea on what I wanted to write, I just had to find the stories and facts of it. I fi had mentioned simply facts people may not have related to it and felt it was kind of impersonal. So, I had to put in some real stories of people as well to explain how they effect the individual.
TBE: What have been some of your “great novels”, or books that have helped you see the world a little differently, or brought particular solace?
Arjun Gupta: The God Delusion certainly had an effect on me as a writer. There are other books as well. I am a non-fiction buff so I constantly surround myself with books about history or politics or psychology. Currently I am reading ‘Understanding Power’ by Noam Chomsky and it has made me look at the world in a completely different light. Its truly amazing the effect that a book can have on someone. I just look forward to more and more enlightenment with more books.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Arjun Gupta: I am and I think it will be a groundbreaking research when it comes out. At the end of 2019, I started looking into how males experience and express depression and the things I found out were very peculiar. It made me ask a lot of things. I am currently carrying out a research on how men in India express depression and how it is different from women and I think it is going to be a very interesting research when it comes out. While a research paper may be hard for the people to read, I will write a blog post about it and if there is enough data in it, maybe even another book! Lets see what the future holds. Depression in men is a topic close to my heart. I just hope I can do my bit to save some people from their own minds.