Mental Health Issues Among Indians Discussed

— By Premlata Venkataraman

On June 16th at the SV Temple, a meeting was convened by Dr. Balwant Dixit through the efforts of the Temple’s Education commit­tee and discussed the inconvenient topic of mental health and substance abuse in the Indian Diaspora here. Bringing this discussion into the open was a refreshing beginning, given the social prudishness of Indians and institutional prudishness of our temples.

It was a difficult topic for the 25-plus people in the audience to listen to. But the speakers – practicing psychologists, psychiatrists, and people who have dealt with the problems in their families — were open and candid, and did not mince words.

Mental health and substance abuse issues being problems often swept under the carpet in our community, the speakers tried to bring aware­ness to these serious afflictions by reassuring people that they should not hesitate to seek support in dealing with thes problems.

Dixit, who teaches pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh, put together a panel of professionals from within the Indian community to bring cultural sensitivity to the afflictions of mental illness within the Diaspora. The panel members were Vishwajit Nimgaonkar, professor of psychiatry and human genetics in the School of Medicine at UPMC; Ranita Basu, psychiatrist at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare Systems; and Anagha Manohar with a background in social work.

Dixit shared his findings on the statistics on mental illness (bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and others): 6% to 7% of the population in India suffers from mental illnesses. With the social rejection of people suffering mental disorders, more than 70% of those who suffer often deny that they even have a problem. Alcohol abuse is a big problem among Indians.

Dr. Nimgaonkar stressed the complexity of treating mental disor­ders. Recounting his own difficulty to stop smoking, he cautioned on the stronghold addiction has on the psyche of people. It requires great determination and support from family and community, and often medi­cines to overcome the dependency.

On substance abuse, Anagha Manohar, with her background in so­cial work, emphasized that communication and vigilance on the part of parents are critical to guide young adults to avoid addiction.

One speaker who brought poignancy to the situation was Ram Eyyunni, co-founder of “Mothers Cry.” He described the travails of his family as his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age and their attempts to care for him at home. He emphasized the role of the community and the support system it provides to bring relief for families dealing deal with this problem. Mothers Cry strives to bring awareness to the struggles of families in caring for the mentally challenged and in finding better facilities to help them cope.

The talks and the discussions were effective in throwing light on a topic that many do not like to discuss but which needs to be understood.

Editor’s end note: In discussing addiction one topic was conspicuously absent. That was the role of mind, mindfulness and consciousness and how they can be used in managing recovery from addictions. Researchers have recognized the synergy of medical intervention, family nand community support, and mental training in helping people recover from addictions. It is worth recalling this:

* mana eva manushyaanaam kaaranam bandha mokshayoh. (Sankskrit)

“Mind alone is the cause for both the bondage and liberation of humans.”

— Amrita Bindu Upanishad

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