On the 20th World Mental Health Day, experts talk about how people have come a long way in reducing the stigma associated with mental illnesses.
In today’s chaos-filled India, where a 10-minute nap is considered luxury, and one needs to pay that heavy price called stress to keep up with change, there is one development to boast about. Seeking clinical psychological help is no longer considered taboo. Today, on World Mental Health Day, which was introduced in 1992, one can safely say that the country has come a long way in reducing the stigma that was earlier attached to mental problems.
Consultant psychiatrist at Apollo Hospitals, Dr Ashok Alimchandani, who has been practising for more than two decades, says: “Ten years ago, 90 per cent cases were of patients who were totally psychotic (read schizophrenia, dementia, bipolar disorder, etc) while those with comparatively milder issues like stress, anxiety, depression made up the remaining 10 per cent.” He adds, “Today, the percentage of patients seeking psychiatric help for depression, anxiety and stress has gone up to nearly 40 per cent. However, this increase is observed mostly in private clinics and not hospitals that deal with mental disorders.”
Dr Alimchandani adds that though people are open to seeking help today, “ we are still not entirely out of the woods”. He adds that fear of visiting a psychiatrist stems from social stigma and a feeling of losing control.
While people preferred suffering silently and underestimated the need for psychiatric intervention a decade ago, today things are different. “The sudden burst of information has changed the mindset of today’s modern people. While increased awareness can be thanked for reducing the stigma, one can also say that there is an increased need for counselling and medical intervention,” says Dr Alimchandani. “While the stress levels among all age groups have gone up tremendously, the tolerance levels have dropped too.”
Psychotherapist Sujatha Raman substantiates the argument that people are more open today. She says, “While I was busy for one hour a day ten years ago, today I’m booked for at least 10 today.”
Adding that there are two sides to every coin, Raman says: “Though it is a welcome change that people are more aware today and therefore open-minded, the only downside to so much information is that it encourages hypochondria among many.”
Shedding light on the importance of therapy, Raman says: “While treatment through medication alone has a success rate of six out of 10. A combination of treatment through medication and therapy has a success rate of nine out of 10.”
However, clinical psychologist Dr Savita Date Menon says, “Hyderabad has a long journey ahead before its people open their minds to mental health when compared to metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.”
In a bid to encourage people to deal with their mental angst through a proper channel, Dr Menon says that “people must perceive psychiatrists and psychologists as experts who are willing to help improve mental well-being and not just cure mental illnesses”.
1) Myth: psychiatric disorders are not medical.
Fact: Brain disorders are legitimate medical conditions and need to be treated medically.
2) Myth: People with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, are usually dangerous and violent.
Fact: Those suffering from a psychosis are more often frightened, confused and despairing than violent.
3) Myth: Mental illness is due to bad parenting.
Fact: Most experts agree that a genetic susceptibility, combined with other risk factors, leads to a psychiatric disorder. In other words, mental illnesses have a physical cause.
4) Myth: Depression results from a personality weakness or character flaw, and people could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough.
Fact: Depression has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It results from changes in brain function. Medication and/or psychotherapy often help recovery.
5) Myth: Depression and other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, do not affect children or adolescents.
Fact: Children and adolescents can develop severe mental illnesses. Left untreated, it can get worse.