Mental Health Should Be On Everyone’s Checklist
Sadhvi Krishnamoorthy, 25 years of age, works in the field of mental health as a researcher engaged with implementing change with the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy, Indian Law Society, Pune.
She started with working on a project “Quality Rights Gujarat.”She was posted in posted in Bhuj, the project aimed to improve the quality of mental health services in government-run mental health facilities across the state of Gujarat. The plan was to assess the quality of services and human rights conditions in these hospitals and then work towards improving the services through training, building self – help support groups and assisting stakeholders in making sustainable improvement plans for the hospital. The centre also plans to further expand the scope of their work to increasing awareness as well as improving access to mental health care in rural and urban communities.
All her academic life, she has been top of the class, after her Bachelor’s in Psychology from LSR College, Delhi University she completed her Master’s in Counselling from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and an International Diploma in Mental Health, Human Rights and Law. Her list of awards include; the Student of the year award for M.A. Counselling 1st year batch, Ratan Tata Scholarship for highest GPA in college, gold medal for the Best Student of M.A. Counselling and the Best Field Work in M. A. Counselling all from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
She has worked on research projects like “Who am I, a search for identity: An Eriksonian perspective” It looked at the process of identity formation and crisis in adolescents across six domains – gender, peer relations, school, technology, family and rootedness to culture. “What it means to be Hindu: Religious identity in late adolescence” It looked at understanding the meaning of Hindu identity in adolescents in terms of beliefs, practices, and wider ramifications of being Hindu. The factors influencing religious socialization were also studied. “Factors affecting performance in mathematics: Does a gender gap really exist?” With that at the Observation Home, Umerkhadi, with children needing care and protection and juveniles in conflict with law, Ummeed- Child Development Center, observed a variety of therapeutic sessions for children with developmental disabilities and at NutanVidyaMandir, a government school in Mankhurd and conducted individual and group counseling sessions for students having behavioral, emotional, academic and learning problems.
Studying social sciences, she realised that her heart lay in studying people, who are subjective, dynamic and ever changing; as opposed to things and objects which remain static. She also realised that she had innate skills to which allowed her to engage with and understand people. Psychology intrigued her and the importance of addressing larger issues related to mental health in our country – lack of awareness, stigma, discrimination, lack of access to care, and human rights violations personally deeply effect ted motivated her. Wanting to do something that ‘made a difference’ even in a small way she moved to Bhuj o with that assignment.
This girl is charting territories which most young people would be wary of taking on.
Here in conversation with this young, talented, millennial woman and mental health professional, she demystifies myths and taboos about mental health in our country. Shares how mental health is not an arena which impacts only few and it concerns and impacts us all and explains how to respectfully accept, respond and deal with it.
Is it hard to bring about a change, in the field of mental health?
Yes, it is hard to keep one’s motivation alive in a field where the process of bringing about change is extremely slow and also intangible in nature. One has to be patient as the negative attitude towards mental health issues are deeply entrenched in our society.
My life in Bhuj was not very easy. My motivation would fluctuate each day. At times, I would question myself and ask what I am trying to do. I would also tell myself – “why am I giving up my social life and my youth to live in such a place?” But the people around me – their daily struggles, their stories and seeing a slow process of change in them, is what kept me alive. When you SEE the change you envisioned, you start believing that things are possible. The people who I work with inspire me and of course my parents, from whom I have learnt immense patience, compassion and empathy – three ingredients essential for our work.
What kind of a person is affected by mental health issues?
Mental health issues can be faced by anyone. Feeling stressed isn’t a characteristic of a poor or a rich person. A woman or a man. It happens to EVERYONE.
The point is that mental health issues are very common.
The ironic bit is that even though it is a common problem, there is not much help and support given to those who suffer mental health issues, since they are often seen as “mad”. They are ostracised from their communities and deprived of the right to live like any other human being.
What is the most crucial area which needs to be made better for a person with mental health issues?
It is crucial to ensure that people with mental illness have access to the same rights as everyone else.
Having the right to get good quality treatment, the right to live with one’s family, not be put in locked institutions, or even the right to marry and have children.
In our work in Gujarat, we attempted to transform government run mental health facilities by simply helping stakeholders realise that people with mental illnesses are humans too and should be treated as one.
I think rights based work is bold – because no one wants to talk the rights language, especially for people who have never been seen as a part of our “normal” society. This is especially opposed by privileged people like us who have never been denied our basic rights.
Imagine, not being able to choose what you want to wear or eat? A situation where all the decisions are taken by others around you, for you? Because someone else does not think of you as an equal and a competent person?
In small ways, we are trying to change not only notions about mental illness, but also the way people practice.
What are the common mental health challenges that impact/crop up/effect every individual today?
Mental health problems are very common and can happen to anyone. Each individual has a capacity to cope with challenges. For each individual this capacity is different. When the problems we face, exceed our capacity to cope, we may feel stressed. One can imagine a pressure cooker. If there is too much pressure, there is a likelihood of having an outburst.
Some of these day to day problems that people may face are – exam stress, family conflict, relationship issues, lack of money, unemployment, work stress, inability to balance different aspects of life. Prolonged stress can lead to mental health issues. Mental health issues could arise from the most mundane day to day problems.
Why is there a sense of taboo associated with mental health in our country?
The reason why mental health issues are considered a taboo, because they are often associated with inability of our brain to function properly, which in layman language is associated with “being mad or pagal”.
In a culture like ours, losing one’s so-called “brain capacity” is equivalent to losing one’s status as a person who can be taken seriously by anyone. Hence, people do not wish to admit that they have anything to with a mental health problem.
It is important to know that there is no direct cause for mental health issues. It is a combination of a number of factors – biological, psychological and social factors. Hence, it is “NOT” true that a person who has a mental health issue has “lost his/her mind”. They can be supported and treated.
Why do people deny mental health issues?
More often than not, people in distress try to communicate their distress in some way or the other.
They may become withdrawn, not engage in social activities, may not be able to do daily work, may not enjoy engaging in activities that they earlier used. They may also become irritable easily, get angry, have fights or quarrels with people around them more easily.
Sometimes, people talk about the fact that they are stressed. And at times, people simply do not communicate. However, those close to these people will be able to see changes in their behaviour. For example, a person is not able to wake up in the morning to go to work for many days.
What are the ways to recognise mental health issues?
The point is not to jump to a diagnosis and label them as having mental health issues. Those undergoing stress simply need to be listened to. People often like to offer advice or jump to solutions. But never ask – “what is it that I can do for you?”
This is because the assumption is that we know best.
Often when people are acting difficult with us, we tend to leave or isolate them – calling them difficult people. However, it is important to know that every behaviour has an antecedent to it – there is a reason. Exploring that is necessary. At the same time, maintaining boundaries and also giving that person space to open up, is necessary. NO one is going to open up to you, unless they trust you enough with what they have to share.
These are simple ways one can help someone in distress. It is also important to not take on the burden, if you feel that you cannot help them. There is no harm in seeking professional help.
Who should go visit a counsellor and when?
A counsellor is a professional who can help you steer through your problems, without offering advice, suggestions or any pre-decided direction. A counselling session is an arena to reflect on your problem, understand why one is experiencing roadblocks and then find alternatives to move through these roadblocks. It is important to note that the counsellor is simply a facilitator. The solutions are explored by YOU.
A counsellor is different from a friend or a good samaritan trying to help you because he/she is trained to not be affected by and involved in your problems. And at the same time, understand you empathetically, without making any suggestions. This relationship is professional because it has boundaries, based on a contract for a specific number of sessions and is time bound. Each session has an agenda and a goal that the counsellor and client work towards.
Anyone can visit a counsellor. It is not only for the “upper class” as it is often understood. People usually seek professional help, when they in absolute crisis. However, some people also visit a counsellor when they are at a point in their life, from where they do not understand where they wish to go. People visit a counsellor to vent, to find a direction in life, to specifically solve problems and to reflect.