It was not an overnight change. But in the span of two months, New Delhi-born and -raised Vishwadeep Tehlan noticed that his behavior changed. “I was sure something was wrong with me, but I wasn’t sure what it was,” says Tehlan.
Concerned about his mental health, he visited a doctor. Soon after, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia — a serious mental health disorder which causes people to have abnormal experiences of reality.
In the wake of his diagnosis, Tehlan lost his job and separated from his wife. Then, he was admitted into the hospital for 20 days to begin treatment and prevent his condition from worsening. Once he was released from the hospital, he was under home supervision for the next six months. “The doctor told me schizophrenia is a lifelong disease. Sometimes, people with schizophrenia never recover. It was a shock to me and my family,” he says.
Although he was afraid that he — like many others — would never recover from his condition, he had a dream to get his MBA. Within a year of the end of his home supervision, he secured a job, took the GMAT, and applied to business school. Despite all odds, Tehlan was accepted into the Indian School of Business.
THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS
ISB is one of India’s premier business schools. In the most recent Financial Times ranking, the school ranked 23rd in the world, with a reported weighted salary (three years’ >>>>) of $161,349. It offers the equivalent of an MBA, which was the program Vishwadeep Tehlan enrolled and excelled in.
At ISB, Tehlan took a bold risk: With just three months left of his program, he told his classmates about his illness.
“I was scared to be so vulnerable after rebuilding my life,” he says. “I’d lost everything and was affected by mental health stigma firsthand.”
While he thought he’d be judged for his diagnosis, instead he was met with support and empathy — so much so that he was encouraged to start a business, Heal.Expert, to help reduce the stigma of mental illness and help people achieve emotional and mental well being. “The ultimate goals of Heal.Expert for the next two years are to reduce the incidences of clinical mental illness by two or three percent, increase preventative health care access by 50 per cent, and increase employment for mental health workers by generating 1,000 jobs.”
Here, Tehlan opens up about his mental health recovery, navigating business school with schizophrenia, and the need for more empathy and understanding for people with similar struggles.
After first finding out he had schizophrenia, Tehlan was resistant to treatment. However, upon realizing the severity of his illness, he accepted help in the hospital. “My approach to healing was to cooperate with my doctor,” he says. “What happens with schizophrenia is that you can’t differentiate between what is reality and what isn’t. You have two extremes; you either feel very low or high. When you feel high, you often think that you’re someone special. Your moods vary from day to day.”
During his recovery process, he realized how much stigma was associated with mental illness. “You can find your superheroes in sports; many people face a physical injury, heal it, and then excel at their sport again. But in terms of mental health, you rarely find this covered in the media — especially in India. Often mental health issues are labeled as ‘madness,’” he explains. “There’s so much social stigma. Many people think that if someone has schizophrenia, then their family members must have it, too. However, if you research the disease, many experts say that it’s caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors.”
After his home supervision came to an end, Tehlan found a temporary job as a data analyst. Although this job was much lower in pay and prestige than the job he lost prior to his diagnosis, he was determined to get his feet on the ground again. He worked there for nine months, and then moved on to work for one of India’s biggest employers before applying to ISB.
Tehlan says he recognizes his privilege in his ability to heal. “There were hundreds of others in the hospital with me,” he says. “Everybody received similar medication. Some recovered, some didn’t. Recovery rates for schizophrenia have actually gone down over the last hundred years. Stress levels are increasing despite medical advancement.”