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006 Mental health

In the words of the philosopher, Henry David Thoreau: “Not until we are lost, do we begin to understand ourselves.” All, to be happy. Your mental health is equal to what gets set in your realm of goals, targets, achievements, and your losses.

Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, said, “Knowing your darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” I happen to know a young person in his early thirties who pops two pills daily for the last three years to keep depression in check (or what he is convinced to believe), to feel better, and to keep feeling positive. Similar to an addict who needs that mental snort to feel alive. I tried, but I cannot change this person’s mind at all.

There are a ton of these startups: more than eleven hundred, and corona has only earmarked its relevance. There are about 300K mental health apps on Android and iOS; some fancy ones and others that that may be quite low on clinically-backed validation. Calm, a meditation app, is the only unicorn amongst them all. Some startups have gone as far as Series C and D funding rounds, on the way to consider IPOs. Investors do find it hard to exit, and there aren’t numerous exits to evince interest; though near about $ 4.5 billion has been put in by investors in this niche space in the last thirty years.

As part of a startup’s offering, which could also be a subscription plan, is it an empanelment of licensed therapists, and you choose the best fit for a patient, or the patient chooses one? Do you also provide video counselling sessions? How do therapists measure impact after multiple therapy sessions; or, is it an ongoing process with/without definitive closures or closure cycles? And, unlike the way we view other businesses, the therapist who is “cheaper” may not, eventually, turn out to be the right one for you.

Jim Rohn, the motivational speaker, said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live in.” Generally, it is hard to get your kind of help or to get the right way to approach this topic. Even though a mental health startup has all the credibility with designations, certifications, accreditations, licences, people, and diversity, will you go ahead to take its services? Pink, singer and songwriter, said, “What I love about the therapy is that they’ll tell you what your blind spots are.” Such mental diseases are taken as red flags by society, and stigma too, but on a changing landscape. Even if you go to one counsellor, you may have the added guilt as to why you revealed more information than necessary to a third unknown person.

Another perception is, should mental health ventures be started by women only and not by men? Are women historically better at it than men? Should men keep away from this field of work? Can we measure the effectiveness of the service based on gender? Nor will there be any, and it can be either.

How much mental health is science, and how much of it is something else? If you have a mental health technology startup, will you treat people like a science? Is it not at all a science? Would you want science imposed on you to solve complex personal problems? Or you need a softer hand to interpret you as a human? Is it only about emotional intelligence to heal another?

Physical health is to be taken differently from mental health. However, each gets affected by the other, and mental fitness means different things to varied people. For those who have got used to the term due to corona, you might relate only to depression. It covers so many other areas, viz. treatment-resistant depression, loss of a friend, bereavement, work life, anxiety, family, relationships, love life, career confusions, domestic violence, pre-marital issues, post-marital issues, sexuality, lifestyle, bipolar disorder, suicide, assault, panic attacks, phobias, burnout, nervous breakdown, child therapy, sleep disorder, substance abuse, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, the startup lifestyle, et cetera. With comorbidity, they wreak havoc, but it may be asymptomatic. People fear to open up because it is considered a taboo, do not want to discuss struggles, need anonymity, need privacy, fear judgement, fear ridicule, and fear vulnerability. It is all about scepticism too. Some might only discuss it maybe ten years later in retrospect after their lives turn better by their standards. Some also fear opening up to a man rather than a woman or vice versa. You also fear that your counsellor could know somebody that you know, and it’s a small world. At the end of it, all that you are looking for is trust, understanding, genuine warmth, empathy, unconditional positive regard, and the elusive solution.

In the case of mental health sessions, the best problem-solution views can come from a therapist of any gender, community, religion, age, et cetera. People of different nationalities also present diverse and refreshing perspectives in different contexts. A young therapist could give you a perfect point of view that you would have overlooked; older necessarily may not be better. It is a rabbit hole where you cannot put your hand forward with preconceived beliefs. You have to be receptive to the right and wrong views. In the end, you require a lot of rational and practical inputs, spoken most kindly, and the delivery will matter, i.e. how you were told.

It all starts with your willingness to look for a solution outside of yourself, your friends and your family. You decide to speak to a third party when your situation becomes uncontrollable, and to whom you will have to reveal quite a bit of sensitive information. Gretchen Rubin, the author, said, “Pay careful attention to anything you try to hide.” These therapy meetings are not just for individuals only; it can be for couples, the patient accompanied by a friend, the patient accompanied by a parent, et cetera. So, as a patient, you may speak to a helpline, phone a friend, life coach, pseudo-therapist, clinical therapist, clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, graphologist (yes), astrologers (yes, to understand your personality), counsellor, yoga coach, and other licensed and accredited personnel; or be part of an extended programme of wellness travel, therapeutic games, gatherings, e-learning courses, chat, video therapy sessions, or in-person therapy sessions. And some startups even use magnetic fields in brain stimulation headsets, coupled with virtual reality, to treat depression. The process will start with a written and recorded assessment of yourself as you will have to provide many answers to questions, and a historical medical trace will get done to understand your problem, and you as a person.

Bea Arthur, the Broadway actress, said once, “Therapy isn’t for people who don’t have many friends. Therapy is for people who do have many friends.” Your family history and social media history will be an area of great interest. Researchers from Harvard University check Instagram photos to detect depression, for example, and such evidence is visible in many ways, subtle as it may seem. You may also have to reveal secret information that you hold back from most people. This information will be entered into a digital system to look for patterns, spikes, abnormalities, and other parameters through the aid of data measurement and data science, i.e. recognize, diagnose and then, treat; and to measure and predict your well-being. That’s where much leading-edge technology has gone in to solve our problems and find solutions. We are focusing on technology to address issues nowadays because people seem to trust data, and it becomes a scientific validation mechanism. Are you looking for a technological solution, or a technology-enabled solution, or a rational and humane solution? The answer that we finally get may not be ideal in many cases — we have to be receptive to the following choices — no solution, no alternative, possible alternative, or a compromised alternative. Now, if a patient says, “My dog is no more. I need her back. How do I get her back?” — what type of solutions would you envisage as a patient, or suggest in therapy? Different therapists will define and talk about the healing process in their ways.

I happen to know a seventy-year-old lady who goes for weekly discourses on living and emotional wellness. She finds it very soothing, and she looks forward to it as the weekend approaches near. She tells that in every session, all are encouraged to speak about problems in their lives in a peer-to-peer kind of discussion. When people open up, she finally realizes that her issues are nothing compared to what others are going through. It is an indirect stimulus to deal with this subject, and probably, it is just one of the ways to think about it.

As Edmund Hillary, the mountaineer, said, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” And how you want to conquer is your way. I have been privy to quite a few mental health cases of both the sexes. In the beginning, even I used to think if it is such a big problem. But little by little, it will eat into your psychological fibre. The more you delay, the worse it could get. You would not want to reach that stage. It would help if you reached out to someone else earlier and more often. People will say that by looking at a person’s face, you can never tell whether something is brimming inside. And vice versa — you may see people who hardly smile at all though they may have some of the best stable minds around. That’s one of the examples. You cannot form a mental algorithm at all by looking at the outside. But, if you think that you will not react till it touches the chronic level, it might, unfortunately, be quite late. The mental health industry will always stay, and its startups will come and go. A big part is people’s acceptance of viewing this field as mainstream, just like going to a dietician for multiple sessions or visiting a gym with membership. Till then, startups will traverse the challenge to create awareness, to help and educate people who are suffering, and to understand its genuine worth. It is the power of the intangible output in spoken kind words and subsequent action which has to be valued and trusted by the people who need it; thereby inducing meaningful behaviour change, and enabling them to live fuller and happier lives. As they say, nothing can last forever. That is the silver lining.

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