Mental health is often inaccessible and expensive. In a country like India, it is also tangled with taboos, leading to individuals hiding their problems due to the fear of being looked down upon or judged by society.
India stands far behind in addressing mental health issues, and the pandemic has only aggravated the situation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 7.5% of Indians suffer from mental health issues. It also predicts that nearly 20% of the country will suffer from mental illnesses by the end of this year.
Soho Deck spoke to a Kerala-based psychologist Revathy Mohan, who is doing her little part to make care for mental health problems accessible.
To make people comfortable approaching an expert, Revathy has started “Mind Free,” a programme that aims to provide free sessions for individuals seeking care for issues related to mental health.
Revathy planned Mind Free when she realised that people, even from her friend circle, were hesitant to approach a mental health professional due to the paid sessions.
“During the covid times there was a huge amount of stress in most of them including among mental health professionals. So, one thing I noticed during this time was that among the friend circle itself a lot of people tried to connect with us, to seek help from us, but we were not able to give them our best because they were hesitant to take sessions due to financial constraints as they were paid sessions,” said Revathy.
“There were lot of people out there who were not getting help because of their financial constraints and it was not right on my part to start delivering free sessions for all those who seeked help from me, because at the end of the day, a consultation fee is necessary for all the doctors and mental health professionals right! I was totally confused,” she said, recalling her initial hiccup of arranging such a programme.
To address this, Revathy planned to arrange free sessions thrice a week with prior appointments through email.
The difference between the Mind Free programme and regular paid sessions is that the number of sessions is limited to one per week and also there is a time frame of only 20-30 minutes per session compared to an hour long session in a regular paid one.
Still, the seeker will get the accurate diagnosis, which is the critical part of any treatment, Revathy highlighted.
She said it was essential to understand what the individual is undergoing and then guide them on what exactly needs to be done to overcome their problems.
Revathy pointed out that the rampant spread of the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns have spiked cases of mental illnesses and people are now unable to manage themselves.
“Generally, people have the stigma of not seeking help even though they have any mental issues. But, when Covid hit, stress became high, and people were not able to handle it themselves, and somewhere they started understanding the importance of mental health and the need to seek help.”
To give a picture of the situation on ground, Revathy highlighted that before the pandemic, a psychologist would get around 6-10 daily cases on an average, while now it could be anywhere more than 14-20 cases daily.
“And that’s a huge number, and that is exactly the reason why I wanted to start this programme where I can provide free counselling for people,” she said.
Understanding Mental Health
Any individual faces several kinds of stress in their lifetime, but it is crucial to understand when one needs to seek help, says Revathy.
She pointed out that when a stress condition disrupts one’s work life or personal life and the person cannot concentrate on anything happening around, one needs to seek help.
“It is a common thing that you feel stressed, and you might tell others about it like you know ‘I am tensed, I feel stressed,’ etc., and that might be at a point where you are able to handle it all by yourself. But always remember to seek help from a mental health professional when it gets to the extent that it disrupts your personal and work life and you’re not able to focus on anything anymore.”
Revathy also highlighted differentiating between regular laziness and lack of interest in anything developed due to mental health conditions.
She said people feel lazy when it comes to their office work, but they may not feel the same when doing something of their interest or in their personal space. A person going through a mental illness will find it difficult even to do something they otherwise love to do.
“When it comes to anxiety, stress or any other mental health issues, it disrupts your life. You will lose your interest in something you used to love doing. For example, a person who loves to listen to music will not be able to do so when he is stressed.”
The word “depression” is casually thrown around by people for addressing their regular stress, but Revathy mentions how psychologists follow several steps to diagnose clinical depression.
She said some standard criteria are found in a depressed individual, and these are looked for in a person before conducting further assessments.
“(A depressed person) Will be having a depressed mood, in children or adolescents this can be an irritable mood as well. He/she will have diminished interest or loss of pleasure in almost all activities. There will be significant weight change or appetite disturbances. Sleep disturbances and increased loss of energy or fatigue is common. Specific number of above-mentioned symptoms must be consistently present for a specific period of time to diagnose it as depression.”
Revathy further added that there are severity levels when it comes to depression like mild, moderate, and severe.
Reaching Out For Help
The psychologist urges each individual to give importance to their mental health and be there for the near and dear ones.
“Everything has a connection, if your mental health is not in the right place, then it can affect your physical health, so these two have to go hand in hand. If you feel that you have a problem and you need help, but you are unable to do so, the least you can do is to choose the right person whom you think will not be judgemental, and just let it out.”
However, she added that people should step out of the stigma surrounding mental health issues and seek help professionally if they feel so because an average person cannot diagnose and help accordingly.
Revathy said people who have overcome problems related to mental health should be confidently vocal about how they managed to fight and get back.
“People need to talk it out… If I have gone to a psychologist and if I have improved, I should be ready to tell others about the importance of counselling and how it has helped me to overcome my issues. I really don’t think people like talking about it. They hide it thinking what others might think about them. People who have seeked help and who have overcome their problems must definitely talk about it to others and spread awareness of its importance and I strongly feel this is one way through which we can reduce the stigma.
“People don’t understand the importance between physical and mental health. Mental health is as important as physical health. We take medicines to treat physical health issues, and when it comes to mental health, we are scared to take medicines, we have this stigma of not seeking counselling.
Revathy continued: “I strongly feel therapy is equally important as medicines. Let me give you a small tip, in case you have had mental health issues and you have taken therapy for the same, start thinking this way — ‘I had a mental issue just like how I used to have physical health issues. Now that I have taken care of my mind, I feel happy, I feel great that I took care of that delicate part of my body and I have overcome my problems. Now I am confident that I can deal with anything that comes my way in the long run.’ — We need to make people aware of the importance of mental health.”
Apart from her private sessions, this Thrissur-based psychologist is working with an IT company to develop a psychological app based on life skills for children.
After her post-graduation, Revathy was working in a rehabilitation hospital in Bengaluru. Before this, she worked in private clinics in her hometown and as a counsellor in a CBSE school.
Revathy has also worked for an NGO and Kerala state government.
Revathy is planning to start a page on the social media platform Instagram, where she will be able to link people with the same disorders.
“For example, people who have anxiety and are under my consultation can tie up together, and can have group therapy sessions… So, each person can share what they feel and how they have come out of it. This can be helpful for those who need motivation and hope to overcome their struggles.
Revathy said she feels that group therapy or group discussion is of utmost importance.