Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mental health - a ticking bomb for the emerging world

Speaking of mental health, the number of news pieces on flash, gory violence, murders, suicides is definitely on the rise. On one side, terrorism is wiping out people by the hundreds. Civilians caught in the crossfire of anti-terror missions is again killing people. And adding to that list now - the criminally insane.

Yet another spate of killings at a Chinese school. No sane person would want to go on a killing rampage in school filled with helpless children. But what perturbed the perpetrator so much so as to want to kill so many children, I can't understand. Then again, what are the authorities doing against such crimes? Yesterday came news of the finding of a beheaded corpse of a boy in Pune, India. Again, the cause of such a devilish act is unknown, but no sane person would have the mind to do something so sick. Day after day news of devilish murders, suicides, cases of people killing all family members before killing themselves, incestuous acts, all really bring to the fore a gory reality.

Countries like India and China with a humongous population that is growing fast in numbers and also economically will soon be faced with growing numbers of diseases of the mind. Now, mental diseases do not begin and end with insanity as is childishly depicted in several of our Hindi movies. They do not just involve people dressed in ragged clothes, with unkempt hair and acting weird. The issues go deeper. Schizophrenia which involves hallucinations, and a disconnect between oneself and the real world is one such example. The patients may look normal, unless hit by a bout which if left untreated will result in the patient internalizing the split personality. Depression is another major disorder, which is always hushed away. In extreme cases, when left untreated, the patient develops bipolar disorder or a state which leaves him/her with extreme emotions - deep sorrow at the smallest of issues, and delirious happiness the very next instant. Rage is yet another issue, which results in spur of the moment crimes. I can see for myself in a megapolis like Mumbai, people so angry with crowds, traffic snarls, losing their temper, and allowing their anger go on a crescendo in a war of words. How all this will shape up going further, I do not know.

Some of these disorders are actually illnesses. Just like a headache or a broken leg which can be physically seen and felt, these are disorders which reside in the mind, and play frightful games with the victims. The victims suffer too, but more often than not, their suffering are seldom ever appreciated by the sane man. Why? They just don't understand the disease. A lack of awareness is the criminal here. Also, some cultural aspects kick in here as well. Many-a-time, in smaller villages, where access to proper sophisticated medical apparatus is missing, people rely on the local physician. I personally know of a maid of mine, who having had several personal problems got afflicted with depression. We tried to get her to a proper psychiatrist here. But her family was vehement in wanting to take her home to her village, where she had been told that she had been possessed by a ghost! The solution? I can only guess here, based on what I've read and the treatment involves hitting the patient, and giving them painul burns with hot iron rods. Brutal and stupid indeed. But again, when facilities are unavailable, the rural physicians don't have a clue either! It is a sorry state of affairs indeed.

And then again some of these disorders like say rage, are man-made. The usual suspect - stress. The race to the top, for the best house, the best car, the best education for your kids, the best vacation, the race to be on top in the showing off game is turning into a nightmare. People are forever in a hurry to go somewhere, just the where is a mystery to everyone. The frivolity of a life lived on the fast lane is lost on everyone till it is too late.

So, one thing that countries like India and China would be immensely benefitted by, going forward would be augmenting awareness about mental health issues, and also strengthening the mental health apparatus in the nation. Till then, God save those whose minds have wandered off into a dark place.

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