She was in her late 30s and just survived a suicide attempt...
For more than 10 years, she had been suffering from an inexplicable sadness and fear.
Most mornings began with her gasping for breath, wracked with anxiety and panic, or an oppressive darkness that made her life feel bleak and meaningless.
It had come on gradually after the birth of her child. At first, she felt tired, and couldn’t sleep well. Waking up in the morning felt exhausting, as if she had run a marathon all night. She suffered from palpitations, flutterings in her chest that seemed like her heart was going to stop. She began to feel a strange sadness and anxiety.
Had she seen a mental health professional at this time, she would have been diagnosed with postpartum depression, treated, and returned to feeling fine again soon, to experience the joy of motherhood and life.
At first, they attributed this to the stress of motherhood but as the weeks and months passed, she continued to struggle. But she and her family didn’t identify this as a mental health issue, or at least one that needed a Psychologist or Psychiatrist.
“I’m not mad!” — she’d tell everyone angrily.
She felt ashamed and scared. Could she be mentally unwell? Did she need help? What would people think?
And so she continued to live a life that seemed more laborious with each day. She could barely bring herself to have a bath, let alone take care of her child — she once almost started a fire by leaving the stove on.
By now, her husband was fighting with her, constantly calling her irresponsible, her mother-in-law called her lazy. Her friends had distanced themselves from her non-understandable negativity.
She felt guilty of some nameless sin and a deep sense of failure.
She felt utterly alone now, completely hopeless, with a feeling that she was a burden to her family. One evening, when her child was out in the park, she took a bottle of pills, hoping for an end to this pain. Fortunately, her husband found her in time to get help.
Now, after suffering for over a decade, and almost dying, she was seeing a psychiatrist for the first time!
Her case, sadly, isn’t at all unusual. Millions suffer because of a lack of awareness, and because of shame and stigma about seeing a mental health professional.
There are an estimated 150 million Indians suffering from clinical depression and anxiety.
However, it is estimated that less than 1% of them seek or get professional help. It is no wonder that India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
It is statistically accurate to say that India is dying because of mental health issues.
In the face of this epidemic, India has meagre resources. There are fewer than 5000 psychiatrists and 8000 psychologists, in our country of 1.3 billion people — about 1 mental health professional for 100,000 people.
Clearly, the most challenging, urgent healthcare issue facing our country is mental health. At mind.fit, we are trying to solve this through a comprehensive mental wellness solution that addresses the main problems in this space.
Some of the biggest problems faced are:
Lack of awareness, shame and stigma
Awareness about therapy and psychiatry is improving, but still low overall. People don’t know what therapy is, when to seek help and what professional to consult.
mind.fit is building awareness through in-app content, workshops and classes for members.
mind.fit is working to make mental health not just devoid of stigma, but also aspirational. mind.fit therapy is not just about treatment it is also for those seeking better mental fitness, creativity, meaning and purpose and “self-actualization”, becoming one’s highest potential.
This is further enabled by offering therapy in a non-clinical setting, welcoming ambience, tech features, non-judgmental stance of the therapists and relatable language and descriptions of the services at mind.fit.
Lack of adequate number of trained high quality professionals
Since we have very few mental health professionals and not too many graduating each year, how do we create capacity to solve this at scale?
- Prevention — Stress is at the root of many mental ( and physical ) heath issues. Therapy, Yoga and meditation are very effective in treating stress and preventing depression; all available at mind.fit
- Self-help — Self-help strategies can help in the prevention and even treatment of common mental health issues. Guided meditations is one such approach we deliver through the cure.fit app
- Training — We hire the most talented and motivated graduates with at least a masters in Psychology. They then go through our in-house rigorous training program that covers different approaches to therapy.
Fragmentation of treatment approaches: Psychology, Psychiatry and Yoga & Meditation
Unfortunately, the field of psychotherapy and biological psychiatry have been split off.
A Psychiatrist is a doctor who, after MBBS, does a post graduation in Psychiatry which covers the entire field from biology to psychology. But, many psychiatrists these days don’t conduct psychotherapy.
Psychologists have a degree in Psychology and provide Psychotherapy. However, they do not have training in the biological aspects of mental health (brain, body etc).
Thus both Psychologists and Psychiatrists have very different orientations and perspectives.
Since Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists often do not work on the same team, many people do not get the benefit of integrating the two.
For example, if a person with depression sees a Psychologist, they may begin therapy and miss diagnosing a possible thyroid issue which causes the low mood, or perhaps miss diagnosing another clinical condition that could be better helped with the addition of a medicine.
On the other hand, if a person sees only a Psychiatrist, they may be prescribed medicines but without getting any therapy. Even if they are seeing both a Psychiatrist and Therapist, there is little interaction between the two and treatments are not coordinated.
Yoga and meditation are also very powerful as treatments for mental health However these practices are usually outside mental health facilities, in either yoga schools or ashrams, where there is little understanding of Psychology and Biology.
So, if a person is going through a problem, they have no idea which professional they should see.
There are only a few integrated centres around the world that combine all these modalities, and mind.fit is the only place in the world that offers Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Yoga and Meditation in a non-clinical setting.
There are many challenges ahead but we are inspired by the opportunity we have of making a substantial impact and hopefully transforming the landscape of mental health care in our country.