My journey in the field of Mental Health

Hi there, I am Coach Kumud. My interest in mental health can be traced to when I was very young. As a child I lived in Ooty a hill station in the Niligiris. Life was beautiful and calm and peaceful. I was happy and content and felt I had the best in life. I did come across a few mentally disturbed people. They were homeless and I do remember everybody getting scared of them and running away. Parents told us to stay away from the streets when they were passing by and shutting the doors when they asked for food. All sorts of stories would be circulating as to the possible reasons for their disturbed state. The children used to pelt stones and laugh at them. One was obsessively working out mathematical problems in bits of paper he found on the streets. I believe he was a mathematics professor at one time. Then there was this old fat man with a wide smiling face who would stand and smile at people. I believe he had a wife and 2 children and when they left him he became depressed. He would longingly look at people.  We were warned as kids to run if he came anywhere near us. One evening I do remember I had gone to the bakery to buy some freshly baked bread. While I was paying for the bread this homeless man came up to me, smiled and touched my cheek. I did not get scared but I do remember feeling that maybe he misses his kids. I just smiled back, gave him the loaf of bread and walked back home. It struck me then that there was no need to fear them. I also wondered why people were sent away from home when they were emotionally disturbed. Why could not they be treated, looked after and cared for by the family? Why would not doctors help out in treating them? There was not much awareness amongst people then. I do remember these events vividly and they remained a mystery to me. With my limited understanding as a child I always wondered and believed there had to be other ways of handling these people who were fine when they were born and suddenly developed symptoms which were unimaginable. I would like to believe that this was my earliest exposure to people who had a troubled mind. It set me thinking. As a Rotarian and Round Tabler I had the opportunity to work with mentally challenged children and I realised that they respond extremely well to unconditional love and care. My stint with UNICEF in a remote fishing island in the Maldives was an eye opener. The family unit is non-existent there and children showed signs of being disturbed. Children respond to unconditional love, care and attention, someone to listen to them and understand them. I was able to help them and motivate them and make a difference in their lives. My bond with the islanders still continues and they often express their desire to see me and invite me to visit them. While I worked in The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) I encountered students who were under immense stress and pressure to perform. Quite a few students were at a high suicide risk and had to discontinue their course. Counselling and motivation helped them enroll back into the course the next semester and perform brilliantly. The realisation that counselling can help a person in distress and the powerful difference it can make on a person and help him lead a fulfilling life came about. When I met Dr. Diana Monteiro this belief strengthened. I enrolled for a course in counselling in The Hyderabad Academy of Psychology ( HAP).  Under her guidance and mentoring I have gained immense knowledge, counselling skills and understanding into human behavior. That is when I became really passionate and decided this is what I want to do in life.  Currently I counsel clients in HAP and also help supervise students in Counselling skills. While at HAP I got this opportunity of working on the Lantern project with Stanford University. The best part of the program is the anonymity it offers to the users as opposed to face to face counselling. Seeking help for mental issues is still a taboo and is looked down upon. Timely help and intervention can help alleviate most of the symptoms and help us cope with issues. The Lantern platform has a wide reach. The program is built around in such a way that the coaches offer a lot of support and guidance. Students have the feeling that there is someone to share their problems with. They are required to just spend a few minutes logging in and trying out the tools and techniques. We as Indians believe in keeping our feelings to ourselves. I would say it’s more of a socio- cultural upbringing, where we are told to keep our needs behind that of others. We are told not to express our emotions (happiness or sadness) openly lest we offend others or may seem too arrogant. We think something, feel something and say and do something totally different from that. All this suppression of feelings cause immense stress. Stress and anxiety exist in most of us and we don’t even realise it is there. It is much later when it affects our day to day functioning that we seek help. Most parents live their dreams through their children. Getting into an Engineering/Medical stream seems to be the end all of everything. Nothing is good enough. The next step that most parents want is that their child should go abroad for higher studies, regardless of whether the child is interested or capable of. Then there is a third aspect where parents feel that children need to get into Engineering or Medicine just because other children in the family/friends circle are doing it. Fourthly constant comparison to others performing better than them are made. Will subjecting children/students to such pressure bring any achievement? Definitely not! The only repercussion would be to distance them further from the people around them. I would encourage students to stand up for their beliefs and desires and learn to explore their hidden talents and skills and lead a more fulfilling life. Building awareness is of utmost importance. This is what the Lantern program is striving to do. When we take care of the mental health of students we help in building a future generation of healthy adults. The attitude of being in a state of limbo is ingrained in our socio-cultural upbringing. A little bit of encouragement will help. Once that initial push is given then the momentum will pick up. I have always believed in myself and in the power of humanity. Hope and belief keep me going in this field which I am so passionate about. The project “Mana Maali” will definitely be groundbreaking in the field of Mental Health in India. Kumud. Your coach.

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