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Spark.Live Conversation with Psychologist Srimonti Guha: Accessing Mental Health Resources in India

With approximately 7.5% of the Indian population suffering from a mental illness, one would think we have a strong infrastructure in place. However, India’s mental health needs far outweigh the available resources. From a lack of mental health professionals to stigma and discrimination faced by people who open up about their mental health struggles, India has a long way to go.

While many licensed mental health professionals are doing great work in their communities, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in demand for the same. Therapists and counselors routinely report being overworked due to their regular client sessions and the additions of numerous new clients. Similarly, just like mental health professionals, most of the working population of India has also noticed blurred boundaries between their work and home life.

Srimonti Guha is a Psychologist and Teacher at Riverside School, Ahmedabad. We talk with her regarding the various barrier stopping Indians from accessing mental health resources, what steps we need to take to ensure we can meet the demand for mental health professionals, and how one can implement a healthy work-life balance even during work-from-home (WFH).

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest barrier stopping Indians from accessing mental health resources?

A: According to me, social stigma and discrimination are still the biggest barriers stopping Indians from accessing mental health resources. 

The entire fact of being judged comes into play more than that of being labeled. The main worry comes in ‘log kya kahange’ – what will people think. We are so bothered with how society will think, feel, react, and perceive us that it stops us from doing anything for ourselves. 

There is also the fear of negative outcomes and difficulty accessing help. Some people might be ready to seek help but are not finding the right resources. Also, the fear of being isolated comes into play while accessing mental health resources. Hence, instead of sharing, people usually suppress, which leads to bigger problems.

Q: A lot of people are hesitant about starting therapy due to the stigma surrounding medication. What would you say to them?

A: We are always thinking about what others will think, how others will react, will I be judged? It’s very necessary to stop thinking about others and start thinking about yourself because, at the end of the day, we have to take care of ourselves. 

People will sympathize and empathize, but they will always fail to understand the depth of what the individual is going through. I would just say don’t be scared to share your story as we all have significant stories in our lives. The more you share, the more open we will become as a community, which will lead to increased awareness and more education about the topic of mental health. 

Just the same way we have to maintain physical well-being, it’s highly important to maintain mental well-being. Otherwise, if the sync goes between the two, there will be a high imbalance in healthy functioning. So, don’t worry if you feel you are not feeling well mentally – seek professional help. There is no harm in taking therapy or medication. Rather it’s harmful to your own self if you are not asking for help.

Q: According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there is only 1 psychiatrist for 2 lakh people. How do we go about encouraging people to study and practice psychology and counseling?

A: There is a lack of demand and supply in the mental health sector, and that has been there since its inception. The main reason being a lack of education and awareness. 

The need of the hour is to reduce stigma and increase awareness of psychological disorders through media campaigns. There is a huge requirement to show psychological disorders with sensitivity and in a better light in movies. Movies should not make fun of someone who is mentally ill. Instead, they should show these individuals and characters openly seeking help and trying to get the best possible treatment. 

People also need to come out and share their stories. They should be able to discuss their mental illness as naturally as they do their physical illnesses since most of the former have a biological basis. It is necessary for the world to be open and start more avenues in the area of mental health. 

Encourage your kids, friends, and relatives to take up psychology and psychiatry. If we commit to spreading more awareness and holding more discussions, the youth will be more confident about taking this field up as a viable and respected subject and profession. There should also be more mental health educational institutes opening up in India so that people don’t go abroad to pursue degrees. 

Thus, we need a multi-pronged approach to tackle the mental health needs of India.

Q: The conversation surrounding mental health was brought to the forefront post-Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. However, we are already seeing it dwindle. How do we keep this momentum going and not wait till another celebrity dies?

A: The way celebrities have come across and are speaking about mental health is highly appreciable, but it also needs to be seen that there is a presence of a psychologist, a counselor, or a trained mental health professional. It is very necessary to have counselors and psychologists in every profession: be it doctors, engineers, or the entertainment industry. 

There is a lack of awareness, and people are scared to share their struggles due to the fear of losing their job, fame, etc. So, there needs to be more conversation about mental health, more involvement, and more movies made based on true information to increase awareness. 

Nowadays, people are more into watching media than reading books, so the media plays a very big role. If we focus on mental health, many political situations can be minimized and contained, leading to a massive change in society at large. 

Q: Workaholism has reached new heights due to work-from-home (WFH). How should people go about establishing healthy boundaries between their work and personal lives? 

A: Though we have moved out from a normal schedule to more of a virtual world, it’s still necessary to keep the normality alive. Yes, with everything happening online, life has become more digitalized, but it’s necessary to maintain a balance between the mind and the body. 

I have been telling my students and clients to spend at least 30-minutes doing physical exercise – whether it is walking, cycling, in-house fitness training, yoga, or any other form.

Next comes the entire concept of ME time. Because of the daily rush and high competition everywhere, we fail to realize what we need as individuals, and it is very important to have at least 1-hour of ME time amidst one’s busy schedule. During this ME time, do whatever you love to do – read books, cook, garden, etc. But one important thing to remember is during this ME time, refrain from using any gadgets and attending any calls. 

Have an allocated family time in your routine where, every day, you sit as a family and share about your day, play board games, cards, etc. Spend at least 15-minutes during the day talking to a loved one and receiving positive energy. 

It is very necessary to perceive our lives as normally as we can. Let’s not get away from the routine that we used to follow when there was no lockdown and no pandemic. It’s necessary to wake up at the time we were supposed to and consider each day to be the way it was. This will help establish healthy boundaries between work and personal life.

Click here to book a counseling session with Srimonti Guha today!

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