Mental illness biggest health risk by 2010, but who cares?

October 30th, 2008 - 9:34 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 30 (IANS) Do you get panic attacks every time you are in a chaotic situation? Do you have an obsession to do something repeatedly, like pulling out strands of hair while concentrating on work? Both of these, quite often ignored by most of people, are mild forms of mental illness - which is set to become the number one health risk in India by 2010, a new report says.According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which released a report last month on mental health, morbidity on account of mental illness is all set to take over from cardiovascular diseases as the number one health risk in India in the next two years.

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) further says that over 20 million Indians suffer from serious mental ailments and 50 million more from milder forms.

Thus, a shocking 70 million people suffer from mental ailments and yet, 50-90 percent of them are not able to access corrective services. Awareness of mental health, experts say, is just not enough.

“Mental illness may become the biggest health risk in the next two years, but the awareness is still not there. The stigma attached to mental illness is so great that people just refuse to address the problem,” Praveen Thapar, chairperson of the Sanjivini Center for Mental Health, told IANS.

Therefore, instead of addressing such problems like panic attacks, depression, obsessive behaviour or hysteria - which are mild forms of mental illnesses - Thapar said that people just ignore them.

“The danger of this kind of attitude is that things can sometimes get out of your hand. Therefore, address it when you can,” said Thapar, who is also a counsellor at Sanjivini that specializes in emotional crisis-interventions (sanjivinisociety@rediffmail.com).

Abhijit Sen (name changed), a 30-year-old, for instance, visited his doctor nearly 10 times last month. The reason? Every time he is in a chaotic situation on the road, he gets a panic attack and calls home, saying that he is unwell and needs to be taken to the hospital.

“Initially his family believed him and thought that he must be really suffering from some disease. But every time the reports were negative. Three months later, he realized he needed help to get over his panic attacks.

“When he finally decided that he needed counseling, we unearthed that this was an offshoot of a difficult childhood, of an alcoholic father and a strict mother. He is now coping well with it,” Thapar said.

So, when does one realise that one needs help? Psychologist Akhila Srivastava explained with an example.

“Feeling sad and depressed over a particular incident for a few days or weeks is natural. But if the feeling of depression, of not wanting to meet people or losing appetite, continues for more than three to six weeks, and talking to friends and family has not helped, then you need professional help,” Srivastava said.

Talking about the rising number of suicides among youngsters, mostly in the metros, the experts said that more than youth, it is their parents who need counselling.

“Parents have to learn not to push their children too much. It is a very competitive world as it is. If a child is brought up in an atmosphere where he is allowed to develop his talents, instead of being pushed into doing something he is not interested in, he will not only excel but also learn how to handle stress because there is a fallback system,” Thapar maintained.

“In 95 percent of the cases of adolescence stress, it is an issue of the parents and not the child itself,” she added.

And, although the experts admit that a rising number of people are seeking professional help to handle stress in this increasingly competitive world, they say problems like alcoholism and depression are also escalating, making mental wellness even more important.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted azera.p@ians.in)

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