It's OK not to be OK

Mayuri Sangharajka -

It's OK not to be OK

Handle mental health with open mind. Be non-judgmental

Mental health, hotly debated in the context of a recent spate of suicides, is a highly sensitive issue with uncalled for stigmas and even strange behaviours on part of the so-called normal people.

We at BizNewsConnect have been trying to spread awareness about mental health and the need to treat it like any other illness.

In this frank e-mail interview, Mayuri Sangharajka, Head - Mpower Cell Management, discuss all issues around mental health.

Readers are requested to send in queries to us at and we shall reach out to experts to get answers.

The Mpower Cell facilitates effective intervention for existing concerns by providing one-on-one counselling services within organisations on a timely basis.

The interview with priofessional psychologist MAYURI SANGHARAJKA, Head- Mpower Cell Management, an initiative of Aditya Birla Education Trust. (ABET)., By B N KUMAR, Editor-in-Chief, BizNewsConnect

What are the main causes of mental illness?

There is a combination of different factors that cause mental illness. Certain factors may increase the risk of developing it like family history and genes, family environment and childhood experiences, traumatic events like abuse, violence, long-lasting stress, substance dependence, some sort of personality and behavioural disorder due to brain disease, damage and dysfunction.

Is it hereditary?

For some illnesses, it can be due to genes and family history. For instance, in the case of schizophrenia or depression. One can say someone in the family can be at risk. It is not necessary that if the mental illness runs in family, one will suffer from it. There are probably many different genes that each exert small effects, rather than a single gene that contributes to disease risk. There are environmental factors also that will manifest it.

Is bipolar disorder associated with mental illness?

Yes, in a bipolar disorder, a person goes through unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks are significantly disturbed. Some days you will see them in an elevated mood with increased energy and activity (mania or hypomania) and on others in a low mood with decreased energy and activity (depression). These are typical symptoms of mood episodes.

During COVID triggered lockdown, like many other illnesses, mental health issues are also ignored. What is your take? Have patients or their relatives contacted you online?

I would say during COVID, people have become more aware of mental health and issues that they go through. Till now, it was all swept under the carpet. People found it difficult to speak about it. Now, clients and relatives are getting in touch online and through our helpline, for interventions.

What kind of mental health issues have cropped up during the lockdown?

There are many - anxieties, panic attacks, suicidal ideation, depression, trauma due to domestic violence and so on. Some people who were suffering from mental health conditions found it more difficult to cope with a sudden change in the situation. Families too found it difficult to handle them.

Any new issues? Any new learnings?

Rise in suicidal thoughts as a means to solve their problems was seen. This leads us to understand that most of us take so many things for granted and behave like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. It took this crisis to accept the fact that ignoring or pushing issues under the carpet will not solve them. They need to be addressed in an accepting, open and non-judgemental manner. The new normal has shown the importance of seeking professional help and building resilience in the meanwhile.

What are the age groups that are having these problems during a lockdown?

All ages groups are facing problems, from children to the elderly. Each one is going through a different kind of anxiety, loneliness, and behavioural concerns.

What kind of precautions do we must take? – Families and those with pre-existing records of mental illness?

Just as we care about our physical health, similarly we must take care of our mental health. Keep a lookout for signs such as – change in temperament, mood swings which are frequent, difficulty in doing daily tasks, lethargy, loss of appetite and sleep, procrastination and feedback from their family about any change in the behaviour. If one or more is observed over few weeks, it’s time to seek help from a professional. Those with existing conditions and under treatment must continue to see their therapist. Stock your medication if you are on one. Family support is all the more important during this time. At times, family therapy might also be needed.

Man is a social animal. Without social contacts he gets mad. Do you agree with this? How does one get over this?

Yes, very much. Social interactions are necessary as much as me time. Sometimes one prefers to be by themselves but on other occasions one needs a social life. One can pick up the phone and call to see how people are doing and what they might need.

"Mental illness is an extremely important issue that we do not talk about in India, and it is even more unfortunate that only certain sections of society can afford mental healthcare services. As a society, we have not been able to progress because so many individuals do not have access to basic healthcare facilities and services, especially so in the case of mental healthcare. Hence, we felt that in order to really put an end to prejudice associated with mental health and to empower individuals, it was important to launch MPower-The Foundation. Through provision of services, community outreach activities and partnerships such as mental health camps and school mental health programs, we hope to be able to help every individual overcome their mental health concerns and actualise their true potential." - Neerja Birla, Founder & Chairperson, MPower-The Foundation.

We are fortunate to live in an era where technology allows us to see and hear our friends and family, even from a distance. During this time, video calls, FaceTime, Skype helps, though it doesn’t entirely replace face-to-face interactions. However, it it still better than having no interactions. It helps to observe nonverbal behaviour. A lot of those subtleties of body language, facial expressions, and gestures can give a feel of face to face interaction.

Any diet recommendations?

Having a balanced diet helps. A good mix of protein, adequate fruits and vegetables and the right kind of fat is known to help mood and hormone health. I would suggest meeting a Qualified Dietician to help plan the right diet for each specific mental health issue that one is suffering from.

My favourite question: Does watching noisy news channels lead to mental disturbance!

I would say yes, it does depend on what kind of news you see. If one is constantly watching negative news e.g.: Reports of suicides in the media, number of COVID cases and their spread etc, it is bound to increase anxiety, feelings of helplessness and tension for someone who already has a fragile mental health. There is a difference between being up to date with what’s happening in the world and excess information.

Most important – how is it impacting children?

It’s a hard time for children. They are struggling with anxiety and frustration about the pandemic and lockdown. Children are going through varied emotions and it’s hard for them to articulate and express. Its shown in different ways through behaviour, temper tantrums, meltdown. Most of the children miss playing out meeting friends and having social interactions. If we as adults feel so about restrictions, imagine what they would be going through.

With online classes, many parents are unable to spend time and even if they do it grudgingly. Doesn’t this create tension for both parents and children? Result: Children unable to focus. Are we treating children as commodities?

This entire shift to online schooling has been overwhelming for all. There is an increase in screen time which was restricted earlier. This affects their concentration as one needs to put in more sustained attention than when one would do in a normal class. Having multiple people on screen and many talking at the same time, doesn’t allow them to sustain attention.

Earlier, there was fixed time for school and the timetable was set. Now, parents have to monitor and sometimes sit along with younger children during classes, handle projects etc. which affect their daily routine and they feel the burden as there is limited support available. This creates tension. It is always helpful if children are explained their responsibility and their queries are handled through communication. If discipline-based rules are introduced, this will help reduce the conflict and make learning enjoyable.

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