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Dr Suman Baidya destigmatises mental health issues on World Mental Health Day

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder are terms of the common tongue today. Mental health helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. WHO statistics say, there are over 56 million Indians who suffer from depression and the number increases with every passing day as the mental health workforce in the country is severely understaffed. National Mental Health Survey 2016 found that close to 14% of India’s population require active mental health interventions. Along with that, the burden is overridden as mental health or even talking about is still considered taboo. Even the legendary Indian cricketer Kapil Dev says he doesn’t understand “American terms like depression”. According to many stakeholders of mental health, issues relating to mental health is a “growing pandemic”.

In a typical Indian society, psychiatrists are still considered doctors for the “insane” and people with psychotic disorders. Mental health requires to be normalised and de-stigmatized. Today is World Mental Health Day, which is an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. To understand more about counselling, treatment and stigmas related to that, Barak Bulletin reached out to Dr Suman Baidya who is a Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at Silchar Medical College and Hospital and explained more about the growing mental health concerns. Dr Baidya highlighted how timely counselling can help in mental healthcare. Following are the edited excerpts from the conversation:

What is good mental health and if someone is undergoing any issues what should be their first step towards help?

Good mental health according to me is which helps us withstand daily problems and doesn’t stop from day-to-day interaction in our social or personal life. Anything affecting this social interaction can be considered a problem. If someone thinks they have a problem, they can consider timely counselling and talk about it. The first step towards getting out of mental health issues is seeking help and specifically professional help.

Many people don’t consider mental health problems a real thing and don’t consider counselling, therapy or medication important. What do you say to such a notion?

Whenever someone undergoes any mental health issues say depression or anxiety, many don’t understand that they need to seek help. Even if someone opens up about it and talks to a friend or family, they might advise them this is nothing, roam around, go here and there or on a trip and you’ll be fine. That is not the solution. One can feel happy after doing these activities but it is on the very surface level and it will be difficult to get out of this completely.

Today, depression is a very common term among the youth and has almost become a trend. What is depression and what is the way out?

One thing that needs to be clear is that having a bad day or low mood is not depression. It can be categorised as depression if the “feeling low” or sadness persists for two weeks or more. In that case, one can seek professional help. In the first stage, you will need counselling and medication as well. In the beginning, counselling solely might not help and that is why medications are prescribed.

But many even say that medication is addictive when it comes to anxiety and depression and one can get dependent on the drug. Is it just stigma, what is the truth behind this?

Medication is complementary to counselling. Both go hand in hand. Counselling will help you cope with the stress factors and modifications on a behavioural level whereas, the medication will make neuro-chemical balances which get imbalance due to stress, anxiety or depression. Medicals are nothing else but neurochemicals which can help uplift the mood that is being supplied from outside and today with the advent of technology medicines are not addictive. The stigma remains that these are addictive and they can be if it’s not taken as per prescription. Whenever we suggest some medication to someone we analyse their present stage and accordingly suggest them. The medicine is also prescribed for a time period, now if a patient doesn’t come for follow-up and continues taking the same medicine for several years, they will end up getting addicted. That is the sole reason why one patient must see their doctor for routine follow-up. With time, we change the dosage and reduce the medication so that it doesn’t become a habit.

There is another stigma that needs to be addressed today, there are many people who consider psychiatrists as taboo or a doctor for lunatics or someone who has a psychotic disorder. How do we deal with this stigma?

This is a big problem and it has been there for many years and it got embedded in the minds of people. Psychiatry is “pagol er department” is a common stigma among the people of our society. People have to make the distinction between psychotic and neurotic disorders. It is not like if I have any issues then I am mad and no one want’s to become mad by himself. It is a disorder not a disease just like fever or any other physical ailment and needs medication and care. It is the responsibility of everyone to address the stigma. Now the government is also taking steps to destigmatize mental health. Today there are District Mental Health Camps and Awareness Programs to deal with these issues.

Any message on World Mental Health Day for the readers?

Mental Health Day has to be celebrated to create awareness that if going to a doctor with a high fever is fine, so is for anxiety, depression and so on. I just want to say that whoever is going through any issues regarding mental health issues must come out and address the problem. If you know someone who is going through any problem motivate them to seek help. To the ones who are taking help, follow the prescription and go for regular checkups and timely counselling. These can make dramatic changes if followed religiously. Mental health is also a part of general health and if our mental health is disturbed our relations with people in the family or around us can also get affected.

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