Mental illness is real, like any other disease in the body, and it is as vital as cardiac disease. Mental illness could be a core reason for other underlying diseases as well. In order to understand mental illness, suicide, and anxiety, The Daily Guardian spoke with with PGIMER, Chandigarh Psychiatrist Associate Professor Dr Aseem Mehra.
Q: As September is dedicated to suicide prevention, we want to ask you that why do people commit suicide and what are the medical conditions that make them take this step?
A. Suicide is a leading cause of death in India as well as across countries and is a major public health concern. When a person dies by suicide, the effects are felt by family, friends, and communities. Most people who have risk factors for suicide will not attempt suicide, and it is difficult to tell who will act on suicidal thoughts. People consider suicide for many reasons. Life experiences, trauma, mental health conditions, and family history can all play a role. However, most data claims that depression is the most relevant and common risk factor.
Q. How are depression, anxiety and suicide related and how can a family member check the symptoms?
A. It has been shown that more than two-thirds of people who commit suicide have had a mood disorder (e.g., major depression, bipolar disorder, or dysthymia). A person living with depression often experiences completely different thought processes. For them, emotions and even physical pain can become unbearable. They don’t want to die, but it’s the only way they feel their pain will end. There are certain ways by which we can identify that a person is at risk of suicide, like talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves, feeling empty or hopeless or having no reason to live, being a burden to others, withdrawing from family and friends, etc.
Q. There has been an increase in the number of people with mental health issues. Is it still a taboo?
A. Though the number of cases has gradually increased in recent years, and people have begun to feel more comfortable seeking the help of mental health professionals, mental health remains a major challenge in our society as a stigma. A majority of the people in our society are concerned about discussing mental health issues with their family members or friends. Even health professionals are not comfortable discussing mental issues.
Q. What tests should a person run to know if he/she is undergoing clinical depression?
A. Recognizing the symptoms is vital. Unfortunately, most people who have depression never get it diagnosed or treated. There are certain signs and symptoms which can help in the diagnosis of depression-like
• Feeling down or irritable.
• Not getting pleasure out of previously pleasurable activities.
• Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions.
• Easy Fatigability.
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness.
• Pessimism and hopelessness.
• Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much.
• Loss of appetite.
• Feeling of guilt.
• Suicidal ideation.
Q. Why does self-medication in the case of mental illness have the potential to be fatal, and how should a family member keep an eye on this?
A. Self-medication is the practise of an individual using available medications or substances to treat self-diagnosed symptoms or mental health-related conditions. People nowadays get information from online platforms such as Google, Yahoo, and others. Unfortunately, many people who are living with more serious health conditions, particularly mental health conditions, turn to self-medication as an alternative to seeking appropriate care. The potential risks of self-medicating serious health conditions include incorrect self-diagnosis, increased risk of drug or supplement interactions, incorrect choice of therapy, and risk of dependence and abuse. At times, it can be life-threatening too.
Q: Is there any research or evidence that shows a trend in how patients feel secure after discussing their personal depression?
A. A person who has a mental illness may not feel comfortable discussing mental health and sharing their distress with others. However, research shows that talking can help people recover from depression and cope better with stress.
Talking about depression is very helpful. When a celebrity says that they have struggled with depression, anxiety, or another mental disorder, it sends several important messages: This is okay to talk about; you can struggle and still have a meaningful and successful life; and mental distress can be overcome.
Even the world health organisation celebrated World Mental Health Day in 2017 with the theme of “Depression: let’s talk.”
Q: What is message one should home from this interaction?
A. Mental illness is just like any other medical illness.
• Mental illness is treatable.
• Do not hesitate to discuss mental problems with others.
• Do not use drugs or substances to cope with your feelings.
• Don’t buy into the stigma.
• Seek a mental health professional.
• Medicines for mental health problems do not cause dependence.
• A person with mental health issues can live life like a normal person.
• Educate yourself and others about mental health issues.
• Be inspiration to others.
Interviewed by Taruni Gandhi, Principal Correspondent, iTV Network.