May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme for 2022 is “Together for Mental Health.” It prompted me to revisit my path and publish this blog, which I had written some time ago but had since updated with some new learning.
In 2000, the number of death by suicide was 1,08,000. In 2020, this number increased to 1,53,000. NCRB data for 2020 says India has about 45.7 million people suffering from depression.
As I recount my journey, I want to highlight that I am not a “Baba” or a “know-it-all.” But I’ve been there and done that, and it is humbling if my path and experiences might benefit someone else.
Over the past few years, friends, family, and acquaintances have reached out to me asking how I survived depression and made my way back “successfully” from the low. Our discussions hovered around some common thoughts that cross our minds in times of crisis. Our judgment of ourselves is paramount. We hold on to the misery without giving ourselves a chance to get out of it.
Along with losing my head, I had lost all faith in my abilities. I failed to believe I was good at anything. Neither as a son, a husband, an employee, an entrepreneur nor as a dreamer. I was not good enough to make anything work successfully. These thoughts had been weighing on me for a fairly long time (let’s say 6 years or so) and the triggers only got stronger after a toxic conversation in my family. That invalidated me for being who I was.
Over the next 6 months, I wrestled with myself until the day I choked on it. I couldn’t rise from where I sat; broke down for no apparent reason; was breathless; felt I was sinking.
The pain was unbearable when I was at my lowest point. Panic attacks, breathlessness, weight in the chest, regular headaches, inconsolable sobbing, lack of food, inability to sleep, focus, or remember, acute blazing wrath, insecurity of desertion, and dread of loss were all common occurrences in my life.
I was then nudged by my wife to pursue the long-pending item on my list – to seek help.
From then to now, it has been about four years. The ride has not been an easy one. Nevertheless, seeking help and staying on the path was the best thing I ever did for myself and for the gift of life I have.
The good news is that if you get out of your comfort zone and want a way out of the discomfort you are in, then seek help. You and your soul WILL make it out alive.
My Two Cents on Seeking Help
There is so much taboo around addressing mental health that I wanted to share a transparent point of view and set realistic expectations.
- Seeing the therapist is the first step. Find one who has learned psychology (the art) or psychiatry (medical science) from an institution of repute and is recognized and licensed by the RCI (Rehabilitation Council of India). NIMHANS, AIIMS, and PGI are some of the institutions of repute.
- Spiritualism is not an alternative for those who need therapy. Vipassana, Baba business, Yoga, and visiting coaches or religious institutions will not fix the problem. A dispassionate approach to making you strong enough to solve your issues is the need of the hour.
Choosing a Therapist
- Please take help while picking a therapist. References do matter. Your therapist should be capable of handling your situation. It is non-negotiable that they are RCI registered and licensed. Ask for their accreditation license.
- Therapists are not one-size-fits-all.
- Once you kick-start the process, do not go “therapist” shopping. It will damage you. You will have to re-live your low moments every time you meet a new therapist.
- Pick one and stick with that person for good. A therapist is someone you want to be as sure of as your partner. They have to deal with your mess in the head and fix you up. Trust them to do their job.
- You are NOT going to a therapist to get advice. If you are, then you are wasting your time and money.
- It is critical to understand that you are the solution to your problems.Therapists know how to get you to solve problems, so long as you are committed to solving them.
- If anyone is advising you with solutions, trust me, they have no idea or patience to do what their job expects them to do. Avoid therapists who act as advisors.
- Likewise, if your therapist starts you on medication without really making you push your mental limits of confronting your uncomfortable truths, run from them too. Find another therapist.
- Medication is NOT the first step. My intent is not to create resistance to a medication when you need it, but rather to emphasize that refrain from taking an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drug to feel better.
- Your therapist has a life. Therapists are not grocers or traders, please do not ask for discounts. That is their bread, let alone the butter.
- The average session will cost you about Rs. 2500 an hour in the metro/cosmopolitan cities. With an average of 1 session a week, you will be spending about Rs. 10,000 a month.
- If you take stock of the money you spend every month on other incidentals, the therapist fee will still be less than that.
- Go to a psychologist first, and you will be recommended appropriately to a psychiatrist if necessary. They are two different roles in the area of mental health. Only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication as they are qualified medical doctors.
It takes about 4-6 sessions before you are likely to build rapport with the therapist. You are likely to have some difficulty confronting your innermost trauma-causing moments. Be patient. Bear through the pain; it will pass in its time. When you are ready, let it go.
- Some people find themselves feeling good after 3–4 sessions and decide to stop going to see the therapist. Do not stop until the therapist tells you that you can stop. Behavioural changes take time. Let the therapist decide for you.
- You will have healed greatly throughout and after the therapy, but it does not imply you will not experience lows. When triggered, you’re likely to have a meltdown, but you’ll be able to handle them far better now.
- Do not come home and tell your loved ones and friends what you shared with the therapist. As much as they love you, they are not equipped or trained to handle the issues you are going through. Your sharing with them could trigger them. Let this be the dark matter that only your therapist can handle.
Things to Keep in Mind
- It took me 12 months before I decided to take charge of my life and do the right thing. The first step takes time. It is less for some and longer for others. Trust the process. You will come out healed with some bruises and holes. But you will live to tell the story and help another person.
- If you think someone needs help, let that person come to terms with that fact. Otherwise, it can backfire. You can take the horse to the water, but you can not make it drink. Therefore, do not force it.
- At times the triggers are the closest blood relatives in the inner circle. The trigger could be your parents, siblings, spouse, or children. It might require cutting the source of the trigger to be able to heal completely.
- Lastly, going to a psychologist is like going to any other doctor. You are not mad or schizophrenic because you are not able to handle your emotions. Professional support makes it easier to get through those. It is simply the right thing to do.
Mental health claim lives
We can see a decline in the suicide figures if we treat mental health without being ashamed of it and don’t condemn those who are going through a difficult time.
Let us make a commitment to stand together for mental health.