Monday, October 12, 2015

Are You MAD?

With the World Mental Health Day just gone by, just sharing a few thoughts about the Indian Mental health status and coping with mental issues.

How many times do we use the phrase, ‘Tu pagal hai kya?’ Almost every day, I guess. However, the troubling part is, that over time, we have learnt to use the phrase so casually that we have forgotten the real meaning, stigma or taboo that is associated with ‘being mad’, especially in our society. 

In fact, according to various reports, there are thousands of people with mental health conditions around the world, deprived of their human rights. They are not only discriminated against, stigmatised and marginalised but are also subject to emotional and physical abuse in both mental health facilities and the community. Also poor quality care due to a lack of qualified health professionals and dilapidated facilities leads to further violations.

Now focusing on the Indian macro scenario, esp. since the World Mental Health Day has also just gone by, the status of India in terms of mental health is bad, to say the least. According to an article by The Huffington Post, at least 5% of the population lives with a mental illness, translating to well over 50 million people. Moreover, it stated that nearly half of those with severe mental illnesses aren't treated and of those with less severe versions, nearly 9 in 10, go by uncared.

Mental illness is still considered a hushed up topic in our country and visiting a psychiatrist or seeking help is often a cause for embarrassment and hence, people suffering from psychological ailments end up either denying or hiding their illness, sometimes until it becomes too late.

The impact of inadequate mental health treatment can be estimated, though not entirely correlated, by its effect on suicide rates. WHO statistics say the average suicide rate in India is 10.9 for every lakh people. While the lack of open conversation around mental health is a crucial impediment, experts say this contributes to fewer resources and doctors available.

But lately, I believe, that through the help of organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and many other smaller but effective NGO’s, more attention is being given to mental health issues. Also, there have been quite a few instances where public figures have come forward regarding their battles from mental illness, and whether it was done for publicity reasons or to actually help others in coming forward, I believe that people nowadays are talking about such issues more openly than before.

To advance the growth and create more awareness, the World Mental Health Day, as observed on 10 October every year, was established with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. This Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental healthcare a reality for people worldwide.

With the theme for this year being, "Dignity in mental health", WHO has concentrated its efforts on raising awareness of what can be done to ensure that people with mental health conditions can continue to live with dignity, through human rights oriented policy and law, training of health professionals, respect for informed consent to treatment, inclusion in decision-making processes, and public information campaigns.

The theme for last year was “Living with schizophrenia”, with the focus of WHO on living a healthy life with schizophrenia.

Coping with Depression

Adding a more personal belief, I feel that at some point in all of our lives, we have all faced mental health issues, whether personally or through someone we care about undergoing such an experience.

Treatment of people with mental health illness need not just be done by doctors or psychologists or psychiatrists. Every one could play a role and contribute to recovery, but what’s required is that people understand the possibility of recovery esp. with patience as a major factor and aid.

There are no hard and fast rules for who will endure mental health related illness and nor are there any guaranteed rules for dealing with the problems when they do arise. However, there are certain steps we can take to optimise our own emotional wellbeing and to take care of our mental health. 

Depression is one the most prevalent form of mental illnesses and is estimated to exist in 3 of every 100 in urban areas like Mumbai, and of this 1 in 3 is severely neurotic. According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Depression is a common but serious illness. Everyone feels blue or sad occasionally, but these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. However, Depression is when it interferes with their daily life and causes pain not just to the person affected but also to those surrounding them and caring for them.

However, one also has to keep in mind that the term ‘Depression’ should not be taken this lightly. Esp. since I feel that our generation is lacking in clarity when it comes to such issues. Though people may find a lot of things disturbing in life, it’s not necessarily the cause of depression.

I can only imagine the amount of counselling that would be required but there are a few steps, that can be helpful, apart from proper medication and therapy. And referencing my personal experience, here are a few pointers for dealing with the same.

  • Understand your threshold - Everyone is different, so know your habits. Keep track of when you’re feeling well¸ how much you’re sleeping and how much you actually need, how much energy you have, how hungry do you get. All of these can help you to notice sooner if you are struggling mentally. A drastic change in these could let you know if you’re in fact undergoing some distress, emotionally or mentally. 
  • Take out time for yourself - Ensure that you take time each day to relax and do whatever you enjoy, whether it’s losing yourself in your favourite music, reading, watching something silly or anything that you enjoy. However, excess of anything can be bad as well.
  • Exercise - The mind and body are connected. Physical health issues impact mental health and vice versa. Exercise has been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety, plus it helps to maintain physical health. Outdoor sports are preferable as you also get fresh air and maybe change of scenery. 
  • Write – When you’re stressed, just the act of writing something down can be incredibly cathartic, not to mention those are some of the best thoughts that might help you to understand yourself better. Getting those thoughts on paper is what's most important, whether it’s in the form of a diary, a story or a poem.
  • Communicate – Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or family. Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you, if you feel like it. It’s important to build your safety net before you start to fall, so identify someone you feel comfortable talking to and can easily trust them.
  • Cut down on alcohol – I know a lot of people who in hopes of self-medication start excessive drinking or taking other harmful substances. It’s important to remember that whilst this might feel temporarily liberating, whatever the real issue is will still be there in the morning, along with a hangover. Alcohol is also a depressant so binge drinking can actually cause mental illness. 

Also, people can avail professional counselling services online as well, as there are quite a few portals providing help, guidance and counselling. Just a few are:

Just as a personal note and since I am talking about mental health, I just wanted to add that I am always amazed by the emotional strength and maturity of people. You never know what one might have gone through or even is currently dealing with, by their demeanour. Though, in my experience, there are very few who know how to handle themselves in situations of distress, and I am honestly so proud to call such people my friends!