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World Mental Health Day

In conversation with PinkyMind, a Bangalore based mental healthcare venture

Mental health is an often under-served aspect of care, both in chronic illness and otherwise. Social media has a catalytic effect on mental health, for both positive and negative factors. On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, we recount an interaction with Mr. Stephen Chacko, the founder of Pinkymind and relationship coach Ms.Smita K. Pinkymind is an Online Holistic Mental Wellbeing therapy app platform that caters to all ages and a variety of issues. Mr. Chacko describes his journey and their mission.

Can you describe what anxiety means to you?

Stephen: ”For me, Anxiety had a deeper impact on my life, it really pulled my self-esteem & self-confidence down. I started feeling (as if) ‘I am nothing’, ‘I am losing everything’, ‘I am going mad’. Let me tell you how I started having anxiety attacks. In 2010 on an international flight, I was going from Bangalore to Singapore and mid-flight, I experienced claustrophobia and got a panic attack, and I didn’t know what to do. That incident shook me. After landing in Singapore and finishing the meetings the night before the return flight, I feared that the episode might repeat. Fortunately, nothing of that sort happened. But every trip was creating an issue for me. I would get panic attacks the night before my flight, before any presentation or meeting or group gathering. It had affected me to such a degree that I was scared to take up a job that involved air travel. My self-confidence started dropping. I was not willing to take up any challenging jobs, bigger role jobs. Anxiety impacted my career and it had a snowball effect on other aspects of my life. This is my experience of going through anxiety, claustrophobia and panic attacks”

How did you overcome the stigma associated with anxiety, panic attacks?

Stephen: I didn’t care much about stigma. If I started caring about stigma, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome my issue. As a person, I am always a fighter. I always set a deadline and say I want to fight it out by the end of the deadline. The first time I experienced a panic attack, I set myself a deadline saying I will fight it out by the deadline. But, of course, I needed help. For the first 2 years, I had to take the help of a counsellor, a hypnotherapist and a homoeopath. During that time, I realized the importance of meditation. I started doing guided meditation, every day I go for a 5 km walk, after the walk I come to my favourite place where I sit for my meditation, I started developing my own technique to deal with anxiety, panic attack and claustrophobia with cell level meditation, surrendering and positive affirmations, and after that, I haven’t looked back.

What changes have you seen in the attitudes of people towards mental health?

Smita: I have noticed that many younger people are willing to seek therapy or counseling than the older generation. Anybody below 40years of age is more likely to go for consultation or therapy. A lot of people in their 20’s come to me to seek help in handling their breakup or after a conflict and other similar issues. Such behavior wasn’t seen before; in the past, people wouldn’t reach out for professional help to manage their depression, anxiety, or other hurdles. Now things are beginning to change, albeit slowly.

Why does the older generation hesitate to seek mental health?

Smita: In the socio-economic environment they grew up in, there was no space for displaying vulnerability or exhibiting mental weakness. The notion of mental health didn’t exist. You had to project that you are managing things well, and you had it all together. [..]

At what stage of depression do you think consulting with a mental health therapist/counselor is necessary?

Smita: I believe counseling is for everybody. We might need it at different stages of our lives. A lot of times, a little hand-holding and guidance can potentially change the course of our life. I have observed from people who come to me, that past traumas continue to affect you if you don’t deal with them. To recognize the genesis of their mental troubles in their past traumas was a revelation to many of them. If somebody had helped them deal with their trauma immediately, perhaps their lives would have been different. Their anxiety levels would have been different, their confidence level, self-worth would have got a boost. So to conclude, if you find yourself in a fix or if something has been bothering you for a while, it is a sign that you should seek professional help.

What effect does social media have on our mental health?

Smita: It has both good and bad effects, of course. As long as one controls and tracks their social media consumption time, it has more benefits than disadvantages. But the sad and depressing news on social media can set one off sometimes.

What are some of the tools and techniques available to manage mental health?

Smita: To begin with, talking with a counselor is what I advise. Sometimes when we are going through a tough time, even a single conversation can help change things. Apart from that, there is a lot of material and support available on the internet for self-care. Activities like meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga, and exercise can significantly enhance a person's mental well-being. The only concern is that the person going through depression might not take up the activities. So it’s not the question of the availability of tools and techniques, but it’s a matter of choice.

Stephen: It’s not just Pinky Minds, but many counseling services provide free counseling to the people who need it the most. There are plenty of toll-free numbers and helplines one could contact to express their grief or seek counseling. There are enough resources for people to take help. But people have to be made aware of such opportunities, and secondly, they have to be encouraged to take action and utilize the resources available at their disposal.

We thank the PinkyMind team for indulging us.

Mental health issues can affect anyone, and seeking appropriate and timely help is important not only for the individual, but also for those close to them. Nearly half of those who have Parkinson’s and an equivalent number or caregivers express a notable decline in quality of life due to suboptimal mental health. Lifespark hopes to destigmatize this important element of healthcare.

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