Let’s not give up

Ring Side View

[ Tongam Rina ]

Some years back, I met a guy outside psychiatrist Dr Tame Kena’s chamber, where I was seeking treatment for post traumatic stress disorder, a major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorders.

Those were mask-free and no social distancing days, so the person recognised me and said hello. He asked me why I was there as he introduced me to his younger sister. I showed him my prescription.

He asked me to explain. By the time I was done with explaining my condition in whispers in that very quiet – where everybody pretends not to recognise – but crowded chamber, his turn had come.

As the siblings were going into the chamber, the person turned and hugged me and said, “Humko pata nei tha aap bhi pagal hei.” I guess the translation of the loose Arunachalee Hindi is, “I had no idea that you have mental health illness.”

In a state where mental illness is often ignored, I still think of the overwhelmed yet kind brother and his sister who was seeking treatment for a major depressive disorder.

Those of us who suffer from mental illness know how stigmatizing it is. It’s not easy to explain how difficult it is to see family members, friends and colleagues leave because time and patience is in short supply.

Stigma apart, it’s equally traumatising for the families having to be the caregivers. Lucky are the people who have a support system in place in the form of understanding, family, friends, and employers.

Stigma around mental health is so heartbreaking. Most families refuse to acknowledge it, which means that there is no help. I wonder when we will start talking about mental health.

The stigma is also because mental health isn’t prioritised in this state. There is just deafening silence and abysmal facility like any other health facility. According to available records, the government has seven psychiatrists, five clinical psychologists, 14 psychologists, 29 counsellors and two psychiatric social workers for a population of 17 lakhs plus population. Most of them are concentrated in the capital region.

There is one dedicated hospital in Yupia, with a screaming board which says ‘mental hospital’.

One of the oldest hospitals in Arunachal, the Bakin Pertin General Hospital in Pasighat, which caters to most cases in the Siang valley, comprising six districts, and other neighbouring districts, has no psychiatrist.

The step forward is to appoint one mental practitioner in all the hospitals and include mental health illness in the state’s insurance scheme, so that those seeking help outside the state or in private hospitals in the state are able to afford it.

To overcome the stigma around mental health illnesses, the community organisations and the government should make it a point to include awareness in all their festivals and events.

In the meantime, don’t dismiss it when someone says that they are anxious or think they are depressed. Please listen, reach out. Acknowledgement is important because that’s the first step to seek help.

Even if one has no patience, it is okay to help someone who is unwell seek help. Maybe you will save a life and help someone lead a life as any other person.

I still have a job because of an understanding editor and caring colleagues who have extended all possible help.

My family and friends, teachers, therapist and psychiatrist have not given up on me.

I know it’s not easy on anyone and I always wonder how they continue to have patience. I wish others had the same support system that I am fortunate to have. It makes all the difference.

To my beloved readers: let’s talk about mental illness, seek and provide help whenever necessary. Let’s not give up on one another.