“Harness social media in a meaningful way”

November 15, 2019 0 By FM

Dr Narendra Wig who passed away on July 2018, at the ripe age of 88, is considered by many as the Father of Psychiatry in India. A lot of his students looked upon him as nothing less than their Godfather, and I was no exception. Very early in my career, Dr Wig told me that if I wanted to retain my own mental health and sanity, I should make sure that I met more normal people than abnormal people. Now, for a young psychiatrist like me starting out in his career, Dr Wig’s word was the law. But how was I to put it into practice?

This put me on the road to preventive programmes in mental health and prompted me to start working with schools – students, teachers, parents and even the Class III and IV staff. Till now, I must have worked with over 1,000 schools and facilitated their efforts towards mental health. As a consequence, though I have worked on many different facets of mentally troubled people, the one segment which I look upon with the greatest satisfaction is the school.

In specific terms, an event that gives me immense joy when I remember it is a petition with Maharashtra Human Rights Commission demanding that the practice of “segregation” practiced in many schools be abolished. Under this system, students who score relatively poor marks are placed together in a separate section, away from the good scholars. The petition finally went to the Mumbai High Court, which ordered an end to the discrimination in 2006.

Over the years, I have also participated in programmes to alleviate post-disaster stress, such as the aftermath of the Kandla cyclone, the Latur earthquake (1993) and the Gujarat riots of 2002. I have also been teaching in TISS as well as SNDT University for many years, apart from a short stint at the Judicial Officers’ Training Institute (JOTI) in Nagpur and the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal.

My involvement in suicide prevention programmes organized at various levels has convinced me that while some people may have a genetic predisposition to suicide, the main culprit is the fast pace of modern life and the steady reduction of family contact time. This adversely affects the emotional well-being of people, particularly youngsters, and makes them vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and may even prompt them to take the extreme step.

Another challenge is the sheer mismatch in numbers. In India, almost 150 million people are in need of urgent help on account of mental disorders, and we have less than 10,000 professionals to deal with them! One of the solutions is to harness social media in a meaningful way, and I would urge all my younger colleagues to do that as much as possible.  

­— As told to Dr Sumit Ghoshal