Woman says she was sexually assaulted during forced exorcism

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At age 26, Gayathri Ramprasad was forced to undergo an exorcism to cure her depression and anxiety.

"My in-laws are extremely religious and very superstitious, so they invited a priest to come home to exorcise the demons in me," Ramprasad told Women's Health Magazine.

"They believed that people living with mental illness are possessed by demonic spirits, so they wanted a priest to come exercise the demons."

Ramprasad said that during the ritual, which took place in India, a priest sexually molested her.

"I did not tell anyone, because here was a man of God," she told Women's Health Magazine.

"And here I was, a diagnosed crazy woman. Or so I thought at that point in my life. I thought nobody would believe me, and so I didn't tell anyone. My mother tells me that I was just in a catatonic sleep for days."

She said she refused to talk to anyone.

Ramprasad moved from India to Oregon when she was 22, just after her arranged marriage to her husband.

After four years of struggling with depression and anxiety, she moved back to India.

"I knew that there was something horribly different and wrong with me," she told Women's Health Magazine.

"I just didn't have the understanding or the vocabulary to comprehend and to explain it."

After Ramprasad was molested, she reached her breaking point. She realized she was sick -- not crazy or possessed.

But when she returned to America, she and her husband kept her struggle with her mental health a secret.

"We had to put on this façade of normalcy—the 'American Dream,' you know," Ramprasad said.

"There was an incredible amount of chaos and confusion, and shame and blame."

She said that after they began to educate themselves about mental illness and considered it a part of the human experience, things got better between them.

They have now been married for 33 years.

But two years after the exorcism, she was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Portland and kept in an isolation cell.

"I was terrified of checking myself into a psychiatric ward because of all these stories I had heard and seen through the media," Ramprasad said.

"But I thought I had no other choice."

She connected with patients in the hospital, and with them she found love and acceptance that she "never found in the world of so-called normals," she told Women's Health Magazine.

While she was there, she had a miscarriage.

Ramprasad said nurses helped her mourn and find the strength to get through it.

"It is there in the midst all of our collective struggles that I found the fierce strength and determination, not just to rise again, and to fight to restore my own dignity, but the dignity of others like me around the world," she told Women's Health Magazine.

Though she has not found medication that has helped with her symptoms, she has used cognitive behavioral therapy to control her thoughts, coupled with medication and yoga.

"We have the power to choose how we respond to any given situation," she said.

Now, Ramprasad has set out to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. She started an organization called ASHA to promote mental health education, training and support.

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