May is the Mental Health Awareness month, so we’ve roped in experts who say that ‘manning up’ is not the answer to your mind’s troubles.
The human brain is a thing of beauty. From the problem-solving left brain to the creative right one, and the millions of nerve cells that communicate with the rest of the thousands of brain cells—it’s easily one of the most magnificently complex things in the universe. Yet, when our brain signals something is wrong, we ignore it, unlike say, when we have a fever or cold.
When you’re physically unwell, and have to skip online classes, workout sessions or meetings—you will take a few days off—and probably consult a general physician for advice and medications. What about when you’re in a constant state of anxiousness or stress? Or when you feel depressed or have mood disorders? It should just be as easy to reach out to a therapist or a psychologist, right? However, for many, that isn’t the case in India. Bengaluru-based psychiatrist, Dr Sowmya Krishna says, “Mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The common factors causing this imbalance are—genetics, early life trauma (sexual/physical abuse or bullying), loss/bereavement and physical illness. It’s not all grim though! There’s hope, as it can be treated, say, just like diabetes.”
There’s a lot of stigma attached to mental health, especially in India. Men and women are both affected by mental illness, but men are less likely to seek help compared to women. Mumbai-based clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Varkha Chulani explains, “The idea of being ‘manly’ is being unemotional. As a result of this stereotype, if a man talks about his emotions it’s construed as an unmanly thing. He is labelled a ‘womanly man’, effeminate, sissy and what have you. To avoid these labels and being viewed as feminine, they run away from their feelings and emotions.”
“It also has to do a lot with social conditioning,” adds Dr Krishna. “The male members of the family/community, teach explicitly that it’s okay for men to express anger, but not sadness. The real-men-don’t-cry ridiculing is damaging too. Plus, the discourse around male mental health is less empathic when compared to those around women, as you can see in the way media reports.”
The stereotype that ‘strong men keep it together’ keeps most men from discussing their feelings openly—which prevents many from seeking the help and counselling they need.
There is a distinctive difference between the two. “Depression is a clinical condition where there is a pervasive sense of sadness and an inability to enjoy things. In depression, there is a loss of reactivity to social circumstances—an individual with depression may feel sad irrespective of what is happening around them, may feel sad even during a happy occasion. Sometimes depression can also present with irritability,” explains Dr Krishna.
According to Chulani, the new-age trend and need for constantly feeling ‘positive’, even healthy feelings of sadness are being abhorred, and that is not a good thing, and can cause your mind troubles in the long run. “Depression makes you dysfunctional. Sadness doesn’t. In depression the cognitive content is different. That means the quality of the ideation differs,” opines Chulani. She explains this further with an example:
“My life is over because I didn’t get that promotion. Things will never improve/change. This is depressive cognitive content, which then leads to hopelessness and a sense of doom. Whereas sadness cognitive content is: It’s disappointing to know that I was overlooked for the promotion but it’s not the end of the world. Let me see what to do next. There is dissatisfaction about not getting the promotion, but not devastation.”
“There’s an absolute lack of resources in India, and on top of that there are quacks like life coaches, self-styled counsellors, and so on, who only make matters worse,” reveals Chulani. Dr Krishna says that according to WHO—there are only 0.8 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 of the population in India when compared to a country like the UK/Canada which have about 14 psychiatrists for the same number of people. “This is nowhere near adequate if you consider India’s population!” she exclaims. “Numbers of allied mental health professionals—like psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers—are also significantly low.”
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We’ve all seen the devastation the pandemic has left in its wake since the beginning of 2020. Our country is currently battling the ongoing second wave. The one unspoken side-effect of it all—is the looming mental health crisis. In a recent article published by The Hindu, a survey revealed that the mental health of ‘young adults’ between the ages of 15 to 25 seem to be the most affected. More and more students have been dealing with anxiety and depression due to the uncertainty about their future and lack of interaction with peers during these unprecedented times. Also, the barrage of distressing news and images are also affecting people and enveloping them in a never-ending cycle of hopelessness. Fortunately, a lot of mental health experts have come together to offer free or affordable counselling to those who are overwhelmed and unable to cope across social media platforms.
“Cancelling out the noise and asking what works for you is a good antidote to anxiety,” advises Chulani. “It’s important to keep a structure to the day. Don’t alter your sleep cycle; wake up and hit the bed around the same time daily. Focusing on some purposeful activity is not only a way to keep yourself engaged, but also is a coping method. Using the mind to direct your thoughts towards things that matter is a good way of managing the self.”
Our brains stay remarkably active while we sleep. Recent findings suggest that the brain plays a housekeeping role while we sleep—by removing the toxins in our brain that build up while we are awake!
A major chunk of the male clients of both Dr Krishna and Chulani, seek therapy for treating anxiety and depression. Says Chulani, “Anxiety about relationships, sexual performance, inability to make enough money, lack of success in the corporate world, and family distress, and so on. Jealousy is another emotion that reigns supreme: The inability to bear that others are doing better than them or being left out of the rat race are common issues.” Dr Krishna also has clients dealing with substance abuse (alcohol, cannabis/drugs, cigarettes/tobacco) and Schizophrenia, which according to her is “more common in men than women.”
According to another report in The Hindu, the mental health helpline launched in Sept, 2020 by the Social Justice and Empowerment ministry, saw a staggering number of calls, out of which 70 per cent were from men. Mostly students and self-employed youth whose main concerns were again, anxiety and depression. It seems that Gen Z is shattering gender norms and breaking free from the ‘stigma’ attached to mental illnesses. “Young adults definitely seem to be more aware of mental health issues, but having said that, there is huge under-representation of semi-urban and rural youth,” adds Dr Krishna.
“It’s great that slowly and surely, most people are beginning to realise that the human body also contains a mind,” concludes Chulani.
Back in 2015, Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone opened out about her own battle with depression on national television. In the same year, she also founded the LiveLoveLaugh (LLL) Foundation, which combines knowledge and domain expertise to create awareness about—mental health and reduce stigma associated with mental illness while also providing credible mental health resources. Michael Phelps, the American former competitive swimmer, and perhaps the most decorated Olympian of all time (28 medals), has spoken openly about his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. He has quoted: “Since the day I opened up about my emotions, it has been so much easier to live and so much easier to enjoy life.”
It’s okay to not be okay. There’s no shame in admitting that. Your feelings are valid. Seeking help at the earliest is key.
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