Beyond the Stigma- Challenges and Treatment of Mental Illness
“Sometimes, I laugh at the things I am supposed to;
But then comes these other times,
When I don’t even know what’s funny.”
Over the course of the past seven days, at MTTN, we’ve talked about a few mental illnesses that have been afflicting the general population. Mental illness, contradictory to popular opinion, does not restrict itself to any demarcated group. It can happen to any Tom, Dick, and Harry, no matter their wealth, and irrespective of race, sex and other social attributes.
In India, the epidemic of mental illness hangs over us like Damocles’ sword, if WHO estimates are anything to go by. Even the most conservative of such estimates establish that there is a serious shortage of psychiatrists to treat the impending crisis: Four thousand psychiatrists to treat about four million patients.
However, that may not be even the problem. Though there has been an increase in the awareness of mental illnesses, it has been restricted to the urban populace. Reaching out to the rural population and breaking the stigma attached to diseases like schizophrenia, has been met with relative failure.
Aside from the individual conflicts one faces with oneself, mental illness presents the patient with difficulties beyond the illness itself:
1. Societal Problems: Most often, we see labels of “loony”, “wacko”, “crazy” and “mad” for people who suffer from any sort of illness.
2. Discrimination: Aside from being mislabeled and misunderstood, often times, mental illness is perceived as violent. This leads to neglect of the person by friends and family. Society tends to look at the person differently and instead of encouragement, a demotivating attitude is used to approach the person. Real life and Bollywood is vastly different and to equate the mentally ill with a Manjulika is redundant and rather ill-conceived, to say the least.
3. Difficulties in student and work-life: No matter how educated one might be about the diseases we have discussed in the preceding articles, teachers and employers tend to look upon these employees and students differently. Yes, they do need extra attention and motivation. On the other hand, “being cautious” has counter influences. Some patients of mental disease, courtesy of their lackluster efforts at work, make themselves subject to unemployment.
4. Suicide and Death: Imagine, inside you there lives two completely contradictory personalities. Neither dominates as each fight for a place in your cerebral cortex. When these two voices inside your head constantly bicker, it’s tiresome. At one point in time, one of the voices can’t take it and places the idea of suicide in the thought center. One lapse of judgment during such a time could lead to failed attempts at suicide or worse, a successful attempt.
College is a transitional period in life, associated with a mixed bag of emotions. It is a stressful period; and in the presence of peer pressure and a need for experimentation, most students begin drinking, smoking and using drugs. These predispose college students to develop a host of mental diseases and also bring to light diseases that might not have been treated previously (perhaps previously having been passed off as insignificant).
Being students of Manipal, we are greeted by a vibrant and diverse student body from the very first day of college.
One of the things associated with this university town is the positivity around campus. It has escaped the violence of campus politics and the intrusion of the government or any third party. Most of us, hostelites or otherwise, are from cities and towns far off from Manipal. Hostel life has its own set of advantages and challenges. Often times, the first year is accompanied by pangs of homesickness which could eventually lead to various anxiety related disorders.
The University has been and is currently taking substantive measures in countering the mental health related problems of students. Kasturba Hospital has two centers to deal with these issues: The Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Clinical Psychology. The university has recently instituted a student counseling section, comprising five counselors.
In the recent future, there are more steps, which are being planned by the counselors to make the students aware of its presence.
The student counselors have sessions in the Ground floor of the Edu building. These sessions last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. There is one counselor who sits in the Student Welfare section in the MIT campus each day.
The counselors have been trained to deal with student issues, irrespective of the severity. One of the most important aspects we found out through conversation with a few of the counselors is that:
Everybody is welcome to come and talk. There is no barrier or any minimum level of mental illness you need to possess to come and talk to a psychologist.
Students have three options if they identify themselves or their peers with any problem, or if they need someone to talk to.
- Approach the student counselors.
Most of the time, they can help you with whatever you’re going through. And at this level, you need not worry about judgment at all. Even if there are issues of alcohol or substance abuse, or say relationship issues, the counselors are there to help. If there is any clinical manifestation or increased severity of your illness, they will guide you to either the Psychiatry or Clinical Psychology department as need be.
- The Department of Clinical Psychology
The Department conducts programs for teachers and students alike. You can approach this department directly. They have sittings throughout the week and each counselor and professor is highly qualified. They identify the disease to be treated through a host of personality tests and a clinical interview. The department believes in a therapy based approach and each sitting is for an hour. There may be multiple sittings throughout the week depending on the need.
- The Department of Psychiatry
If you have a friend with a Personality related disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Schizophrenia, it’s best to bring them to the Department of Psychiatry. The efficacy of treatment and therapy is well established in this department. They, however, deal with the more serious or acute cases at hand.
To be afflicted with a disorder of the mind is taxing, both physically and emotionally. There isn’t any one magic drug, which would cure a disorder. Dealing with a mental illness is a continuous process: a rigorous one at that.
We as friends can do best by providing a hand of support to those having their own personal battles inside them. It may be overwhelming at times to deal with mood swings or introversion. However, a few compliments here and there, engaging in conversation, and being a source of encouragement might be sufficient to revamp their morale.
- Student Counselors
Ms. Karuna Devadiga: 0820-29-22903
Ms. Vidya: 0820-29-33515
Ms. Shilpa Joshi: 0820-29-33516
Mr. Oirwsh: 0820-29-33517
- Department of Clinical Psychology
Phone no: 0820-29-22415
Ground Floor, Kasturba Hospital
- Department of Psychiatry
Phone no: 0820-29-22778/22217
Third Floor, Kasturba Hospital
We fail to see the war that wages just underneath the surface of the people in our midst. Mental illness wears a cloak of invisibility and deceives us all. All we can do is be understanding and respectful of those around us and maintain optimism in our dealings with others. As Allen Ginsberg said, “We are all great writers on the same dreadful typewriter.” Let us all help those writers who are stuck in an exhausting and unnerving writer’s block.
– Reetobaan Datta for MTTN
Editor’s note: This marks the end of the MTTN Mental Health Awareness week 2016. However, mental health will remain an important area of focus for our organization in the future. We welcome any suggestions and thoughts, and we urge you to take a look at this form and spend a little time to send us your opinions, anonymous or otherwise, to let us know what Manipal thinks of mental health: Manipal on Mental Health