- World Mental Health Day 2021 calls for 'Mental health in an unequal world'
- In 2017, 197.3 million people were suffering from mental disorders in India
- COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated mental health issues: Experts
New Delhi: “Most of our problems increase when we don’t open up and share; unmute yourself. If you unmute yourself, your feeling and thoughts, you will be able to find solutions”, says Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Fortis National Mental Health Program at Fortis Healthcare. Mental health is one of the topics which is often brushed under the carpet or discussed in hushed tones. This is despite the fact that in 2017, 197.3 million people that is one in seven were suffering from various mental disorders in India. According to the experts, the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the issue and it’s about time we move from conversation to solutions.
As part of the NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign, ahead of World Mental Health Day 2021, we had a special discussion with Dr Samir Parikh where we discussed various aspects of mental health and how to deal with them. Here are some excerpts from the chat.
NDTV: A lot of working professionals are anxious to go back to the office to work. What do you have to say about that?
Dr Samir Parikh: We change, we adapt to change, then we get accustomed to that, and then when again a change comes, we have to go back through a transition that can bring a little bit of anxiety. Before the pandemic, a lot of young, working professionals used to say they wish they had work from home, so they had more time at home with their families, spend less time commuting. And then COVID happened and people wanted to step out as they were getting bored at home. Now, when the time is nearing where they have to step out, they are worried again. So this is natural, it’s human nature. The key is to ensure your rhythm and routine are not impacted when you’re going through these thoughts. Secondly, keep socialising with your colleagues and friends as this will help you realise we are all in the same boat. It is also important to take time out for your hobbies, spend time with your families, and indulge in creativity, physical activities like yoga and pranayam. Fill your day with things that bring you joy.
NDTV: Another set of working professionals are those who have faced a job loss or major pay cut in their salary. What would you say to address that?
Dr Samir Parikh: This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is ‘mental health in an unequal world’. We were all in the same storm, but some had submarines, and some had large ships, lifeboats while some were trying to swim all by themselves. That is inequality in its own way. There are two answers to your question; firstly, I need to not let self-belief be affected because an external factor impacted it. My education is the same, my personality is the same, I can be the same hardworking person that I have always been. I can get my success back the moment I get my opportunity back. Secondly, it brings an important perspective for all policymakers, that what we do about social, financial security for people across the world. We need to bring equality and equity in a way that people who struggle are given societal support at the right time, in the right way to help them tide over the crisis.
NDTV: During work from home, a lot of us are on our devices. Once the work in finished, we are again on our smartphones because all the engagement is on our device. But this has made a lot of think, ‘Am I addicted to devices?’
Dr Samir Parikh: Be smarter than the phone so that we say, smart user using a phone and not the user using the smartphone. Young people especially should switch off their phones when going to bed. If you wake up in the middle of your sleep, you don’t need to check has there been a social media post and do you need to like it.
All of us need to appreciate that it has been difficult. Yes, the digital interface has been remarkable to help us tide over. Imagine what would have happened in the previous pandemic. Here you at least had the opportunity to stay connected with your distant relatives, get news, be entertained, and use social media. And people use social media positively as well. I think the right approach is, take regular digital breaks, take a stroll, talk to family, and indulge in mindful activities. Don’t allow you to have a purposeless digital interface. Switch off your mobile phone at least one hour before going to the bed and don’t be in a hurry to switch it on. The world is going to be where you left it.
NDTV: What would be your tips to parents who are finding it difficult to not let their kids go out? These are crucial years for children and this would have built their personalities absolutely different.
Dr Samir Parikh: First, let’s empathise and understand that it has been tough on kids. They have also been indoors, they have suddenly switched to digital education, hours spent on the digital interface have increased drastically, and outdoor activities and time spent with friends became less. So, empathise and give them a bit more space. If they are having tantrums or mood issue, let it be. Reduce over criticism, reduce your list of dos and don’ts, spend quality time on what they like, be a role model, connect your children with grandparents and extended family and encourage them to keep talking to their friends. Peer relationships are one of the strongest pillars of a growing child.
NDTV: The latest UNICEF report states that more than 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 lived in the world in 2020. Estimates indicate that more than 13 per cent of them had a mental disorder. We are aware of mental disorders in children but what do we do about it?
Dr Samir Parikh: COVID-19 has not brought mental health issues only. They were there; yes, they have gone through a drastic change because life circumstances change but the problem has always been there. For solutions, let’s understand there is a deficit of experts, so we need to also look at a lot of preventive work. Life skills integrated in school; psychological first-aid for teachers; parents and peers, mental health curriculum; ensure teachers get basic counselling skills because all schools don’t have counsellors, we have a deficit; integrate schools with external experts as and when required; work closely with parents; encourage help-seeking behaviour. Collectively the society needs to change the way the conversation around mental health happens.
Also Read: Mental Health Explained: What Is Depression?
NDTV: Why most Indian schools don’t have counsellors?
Dr Samir Parikh: The ratio of mental health experts in low and middle-income countries to high-income countries ranges from 2 to 70 per lakh population. The deficit of experts is a reality and that is obviously changing year after year, as more experts graduate, more training happens, and colleges have more seats. Now, the question should be, what can we do? To address the gap, ensure basic counselling for teachers, utilising the teacher communities, repo, trust, approach with children, valuing their mental health and at the same time, mental health curriculum.
NDTV: What’s the best thing to do when you are going through a panic attack and you are alone?
Dr Samir Parikh: Immediately talk to someone, do some breathing exercises, distract yourself, see what the thought that is bothering you is, and try and counter the thought. But, if this kind of an episode is a one-of thing, was triggered by some stress, talk to you well-wishers and if you are able to resolve it, it’s fine. But if you are repeatedly having these episodes then it could be a panic disorder which is a mental ailment and requires expert intervention.
NDTV: If someone feels depressed and anxious with every small thing, how can they cope with it?
Dr Samir Parikh: Sometimes we use the word depressed as an English term. If you are feeling sad, worried and low when you are bothered by things, that’s one thing. But when we say depressed, let’s remember, depression is among one of the single largest illnesses in the world. It happens across age-groups. Depression is when you feel low and sad almost throughout the day; you have a loss of pleasure and interest; you get thoughts of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthless; you feel fatigued; concentration issues; changes in sleep and appetite; you lose interest in life. If these symptoms stay for about two weeks then it could be a medical concern.
Now, let’s talk about if you tend to get worried, about triggers. You need to look at solving those triggers. If it’s not a consistent pattern and if it’s just about you getting worried about uncertainty, change or work, you should talk to someone.
NDTV: Is excessive fear of bad situations also a red line symptom of depression?
Dr Samir Parikh: Anything excessive or anything which impairs your functioning of life, then it becomes a red flag and you need to take expert opinion. At the same time, if you are worried about things that others are also worried about and it is not having an impact on you and you are able to go through your day and feel good about them, then it’s fine.
NDTV: How to deal with the grief of losing a loved one?
Dr Samir Parikh: Loss or grief is a very personal experience. None of us can advise somebody on what to do. Time takes its own course. What is important is, if you see someone going through bereavement, be there for them. Don’t let the individual feel that they are by themselves.
NDTV: How to deal with so much uncertainty?
Dr Samir Parikh: Life has always been uncertain. We plan but how do you plan? You focus on today and tomorrow. You focus on what is the achievable immediate goal. You have a distant mark of where you want to be which can be a guiding force. That’s what has always been the case. In the last one a half years, we experienced uncertainty at a whole different level. I feel all of us need to have ‘here and now’ focus. Have a brilliant today and then let’s go to tomorrow and have a great tomorrow. Add these todays and a distant tomorrow will be nice.
You can listen to the full Banega Swasth India podcast discussion by hitting the play button on the Spotify player embedded above.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.