If we lived in a world where mental illnesses were taken seriously and effectively treated, it could surely have a huge impact on not just our emotional, but also our physical, wellbeing.
But this is a futuristic statement, since mental health is still a taboo in India and many countries.
As they say, we must care for not only our bodies, but also our emotions and thoughts, Dr Ruksheda Syeda is on a mission to help people overcome issues related to mental health and specifically help women to take care of themselves.
An eminent Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist, Dr Ruksheda is a celebrated speaker on Mental Health with two Tedx talks to her credit. Having received numerous international awards including a prestigious WHO Fellowship from South Korea in psycho-social rehabilitation, she has a thriving private practice in Mumbai, spanning over 18 years. She is the convenor of women's mental health specialty section of Indian Psychiatric Society and secretary of the women's mental health committee of Indian Association of Private Psychiatry. She has served on boards of local, national, and international professional bodies.
A passionate advocate of community mental health, Dr Ruksheda specialises in adolescents, young adults, women and families in order to bridge the gap and provide quality affordable mental health care to all. She volunteers for talks and workshops for NGOs, schools and colleges, working towards awareness and prevention of psychological illnesses through her public service initiative – MARG.
Apeksha News Network had a chance to get into an in-depth and exclusive conversation with Dr Ruksheda Syeda wherein she spoke about mental health taboo in India, issues faced by women and also gave us some tips on enjoy a great mental health!
Tell us a little about yourself and your work for women's mental health.
I have been working in the private sector for more than 18 years, and dedicate 10 hours every week in affordable care set-ups, where the majority of patients and clients are women. I am the convenor of Women’s Mental Health (WMH) speciality section of Indian Psychiatric Society, which is the largest professional body of psychiatrists in India. I am also the committee member of WMH of Indian Association of Private Psychiatry, the 2nd largest body of psy. Under the IPS banner, I have organized multiple national scientific conferences and public awareness campaigns including workshops for Anganwadi workers and community health volunteers on perinatal screening of mental illness.
With regards to the mental health, what tends to the issues commonly found in India?
In spite of a large number of people suffering from both kind of mental illnesses - common ones like depression and anxiety as well as serious ones like schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, OCD, substance abuse - the awareness and information about mental health and disorders remains all time low. This leads to fear, shame, and stigma making early detection and treatment difficult. With about 23 million Indian adults needing treatment for Depressive Disorders alone, our country is low in human, financial, and social resources making it more challenging.
You have been working on Women’s mental health in India for a few years. What is your opinion on the current status of women’s fitness in Indian society and how does Indian society view it?
Women’s health in general is neglected from sex selection at birth to discrimination in nutritional, vaccination and medical care of the girl child. Women have lesser access to mental health care, and only a small proportion get treatment by specialists. Areas like perinatal (pre natal and post natal) psychiatry need more understanding and attention.
Our society does not acknowledge mental illness, rather they do not understand much about it. So, what kind of social acceptance do people who go through it have in India?
People tend to believe that mental health issues and disorders are not medical conditions but due to weakness of mind, or only in response to stress and trauma. Many still believe it is a curse or black magic and seek help from faith healers instead of approaching doctors. There is a lot of self-blame and fear and families tend to hide the patients or not allow them to talk about it.
What still needs to be done to ensure that people facing mental health issues confront their problems and seek help, which is not so often seen in India.
Making mental health literacy as a part of curriculum of both students and teachers will tackle the problem from ground level and lead to better mental health. In the meantime, normalizing mental health and disorders by talking about it in homes and schools will take away shame and fear. Media is a power tool and stories told for entertainment can act as a great way of learning. Sensitive and accurate depiction of mental health issues and treatments in movies, skits, serials, and print will be helpful.
Molestation, abuse, rape, crime… All these lead to mental health issues too. What is your opinion on same and how they can be dealt with?
Abuse of any kind - physical, verbal, social, financial, or sexual is an emotional abuse too, and can lead to mental health issues and disorders. We know that early childhood experiences of neglect, bullying, and abusive parenting often lead to abusive children and adults. Protecting children from abuse, teaching them empathy and consent is very important. Educating children about personal space and what to do if they are hurt, and whom to approach is important. Empowering victims to come forward, share and take help will also help reduce the crimes, as perpetrators would fear consequences.
Do you think crime can be reduced if government takes mental health issues of criminals seriously? Any suggestions to the government?
Rehabilitation of criminals has proven to be good for society. Improving education, psychological and social support of the criminals, treating them for their mental disorders can be transformative. The government must include mental health professionals in the jails that would work with the incarcerated and the authorities.
What main change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation?
I would like to see young boys and men, along with the girls to be more empathetic and compassionate towards themselves and others. We know that girls and women suffer less from all reproductive related illnesses if they are better informed. Taking care of self, sharing with girl friends is very therapeutic. I would like young girls to understand how to share life responsibilities instead of trying to be superwomen. Take ownership of your bodies, minds, education, and future. Look around, find support systems, make informed choices and rejoice in your success.
Please share few tips for our readers, which they can follow to attain good mental health.
There is no health without mental health. A good lifestyle must include adequate sleep, physical activity and exercise. A few minutes each day in self-reflection and meditation is a healthy habit. Spending time with family and friends and pursuing activities that one finds interesting and fun is very balancing. Setting realistic goals helps us achieve our ambitions. Figure out what you want, then figure out if its good for you, then find the best way of getting it. Asking for help is a sign of strength and sharing lessens the burden – find people you connect with and talk about what makes you happy and scared and sad. Learning some tips of emotional management helps us have happier relationships. Using social media and smart devices consciously and responsibly can be enriching. Take a mental health break when needed. If you see changes in sleep, food, mood, behavior patterns, if you find yourself distressed for more than 15 days, seek professional help.
Is it important to celebrate International Women’s Day? Why?
It is important to celebrate this day as it reminds us of all the progress we have all made in gender equality and keeps us motivated to continue work in that direction. Celebrating women inspires not just other girls and women but entire societies. A special day helps all of us correct courses and renew resolves!
Glenn Close had rightly said, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” Apeksha News Network congratulates Dr Ruksheda Syeda for her contribution and commitment towards the society in the field of wellness, health, and social welfare that aims at doing yeoman service to the community and world at large and wishes her good luck for the future endeavours!