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Chandigarh tricity takes to therapy for mental wellbeing

With mental health issues no longer a taboo, an increasing number of people in the tricity are seeking professional help to secure their mental & emotional wellbeing.

punjab Updated: Oct 10, 2018 13:25 IST
Aishwarya Khosla
Aishwarya Khosla
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Chandigarh,mental wellbeing,mental health issues
These days people do not shy away from visiting mental health experts. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Sandeep Singh Sandhu, 48, makes no bones about his regular visits to his psychiatrist for counselling. Sandhu was in his teens when he started experiencing violent mood swings. His parents didn’t take it lightly and took him to a doctor. Subsequently, he was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.

A young mother and successful banker, lets you know she is seeing a “shrink,” the popular slang for a psychologist or psychiatrist.

“I have some childhood issues, which are impacting my relationship with my husband,” she explains. A young man, new to the city, is also seeing a counsellor to deal with his temper tantrums that are affecting his work.

With experts shining a light on the importance of mental health, an increasing number of people are seeking the help of counsellors instead of battling their demons by themselves. That may explain why Harnoor Kaur Bhatia, a psychologist at the Mind Research Foundation, has a full calendar.

“Be it a heartbreak, a relationship going sour or work-related anxiety, people are increasingly approaching counsellors to deal with their emotional and mental problems,” says Bhatia.

Signs & Symptoms
  • Sleep or appetite changes
  • Mood swings — Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions or depressed feelings
  • Social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Drop in functioning
  • Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Apathy or feeling disconnected
  • Illogical thinking
  • Nervousness — Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling
  • Unusual behaviour – Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behaviour

Mapping the brain

Dr Simmi Waraich, a leading psychiatrist of the city, attributes it to increase in awareness. “They understand psychiatric issues are accompanied by physical changes. MRIs have shown that a depressed brain is different from a healthy one. When people begin suffering from fever, they take a paracetamol and soldier on for a couple of days but if their condition does not improve, they see a doctor. Similarly, if a person’s mental condition does not improve on its own, he must consult a specialist.”

Dr Adarsh Kohli, professor at the department of psychiatry at PGI, says it is a positive sign that now people seek counselling for behavioural issues such as adjustment problems or frequent quarrels.

“Parents are also willing to consult a psychologist if their child displays odd behaviour such as indulging in self-harm, or using too much social media.”

Interestingly, some affluent families of Chandigarh have made a documentary called ‘Stigma’ to help people understand the struggles faced by a patient suffering from a mental health issue.

Not a stigma

Conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and adjustment disorders are no longer considered a figment of imagination or the ravings of an unhinged mind.

Sandhu, who suffered from severe depression that confined him to his bed in the last two months, says he is grateful that his partners and clients empathised with him instead of being judgmental. “Not once did anybody dismiss my condition as laziness.”

However, things were not always so rosy. “Till about a decade ago, people would call me erratic, eccentric and weird. But now they understand that depression is as much a disease as dengue or hypertension.”

Things were much worse for his father, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “He suffered an episode while studying mechanical engineering in Switzerland. I can never forget how unkind my grandfather was towards him. He could never reconcile with the fact that his son was suffering from mental illness.”

Therapist over family

Patients say they find it easier to confide in a counsellor than a family member. A young woman who recently broke her engagement opted for therapy to heal instead of approaching her parents. “It was taking a heavy toll on my health, I feared I would lose my sanity. My weekly sessions with the counsellor are a blessing.”

In some cases, families take expert help. A 22-year-old woman, who started suffering anxiety attacks after flunking her civil service exams, says, “I lost both sleep and appetite.” She regained both once her parents took her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with depression.

But not all families are as supportive. Bhatia says in some cases families, are unwilling to accept that there is something wrong. “One of my patients, a highly educated woman who worked in an MNC was suffering from post-partum depression for a long time, because of which she hated being a mother. Her mother-in-law was against her seeking treatment. It was only when she spoke to her colleagues that she discovered that many of them had undergone the same experience, and had recovered after seeing a therapist.”

Bhatia says youngsters are more open to pouring their hearts out to a shrink than people above 40.

“The stigma has not vanished entirely. Most people consult a faith healer before coming to a psychiatrist. The rich seek the help of private practitioners while the poor visit hospitals secretly. It’s the middle class that is most accepting,” says Dr Kohli.

Crisis of counsellors

With the number of patients increasing due to stress, anxiety and lack of support at home, the tricity is in the throes of a mental health crisis.

Dr Waraich rues that there aren’t enough mental health professionals in the country to administer to the rising number of patients “There are 7000 psychiatrists against the requirement of 1 lakh. Currently, 450 psychiatrists are produced each year. It will take us at least 15 years to reach the optimal figure. Consequently, most healthcare professionals misdiagnose and either over-prescribe or under-prescribe medicines.”

First Published: Oct 10, 2018 11:13 IST