In Conversation With Psychologist & Counsellor, Dr Pinky Dhawan, on Dealing With Anxiety, Depression & Other Mental Health Issues

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Depression and bad mental health have been ignored as a serious issue since ages due to the stigmas attached to it. But thankfully, we have seen a change in the attitude of people towards seeking professional psychological help in recent times. Especially when it comes to the hectic urban life, more and more people are falling prey to mental health issues. In fact, according to the 2015-16 National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) survey, every sixth person in India needs some kind of mental health help. That’s huge!
Which is why we got in touch with Dr Pinky Dhawan, consultant psychologist and counsellor at Pheonix Hospital, New Delhi with a Masters in Counselling Psychology and she answered some commonly asked questions about depression, anxiety and mental health. Dr Dhawan has over ten years of experience in dealing with people with emotional conflicts, personality problems, anxiety, phobias, marital disputes, sexual dysfunctions and depression. Scroll down to read our insightful conversation with her.

in picture- Dr. Pinky Dhawan

Hi Doctor, could you explain to us what exactly do a psychologist and counsellor do?

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A psychologist is someone who understands how the mind functions cognitively- what are the thoughts that drive people to do what they do. A psychologist understands the motivation and drives of people. This is based on the theories developed by great psychologists. Starting from Sigmund Freud, who was the father of psychology, to various others like Karen Horney, Alfred Adler, Albert Ellis and so many others.
A counsellor, on the other hand, is one who is trained to help people deal and cope with the struggles they are going through. Both psychologists and counsellors are there as a support to the client but are not qualified to prescribe medications, if required. For medical needs, a psychiatrist is necessary.

Why do you think it is important to keep mental health in check, especially in today’s fast-paced life?

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The most essential ingredient in keeping a healthy mind is keeping stress at bay. Stress is the biggest factor in creating mental and physical health problems. We all have daily stresses but when they become bigger than our dealing capacity, the mind gets negatively impacted. And when we are mentally unhealthy, we develop physical symptoms like headaches, cardiovascular disorders, low immunity, sleep disorders, skin disorders, gastrointestinal disorders etc. Not all, but many of the physical ailments are due to untreated stress. 

A lot of urban population leads a very stressful life. How can people keep calm and lead a stress-free life in such a scenario?

In today’s hectic world, stress is unavoidable. There is something called ‘good stress’, which is required for us to function and perform. Otherwise, we will not be very functional and effective in our daily life. Good stress pushes us to work and achieve our dreams. But when the stress becomes something we cannot cope with, then it is time to take stock of our lives and reduce the ‘bad stress’.

  • The first point to tackle is our sleep. This is extremely important in balancing and healing our mind. Without proper sleep, no other solution will work.
  • Next is healthy food habits. Neither starving ourselves nor overeating will lead to a healthy mind.
  • The third component is exercise. At least 40 mins of physical exercise a day is needed to feel good, both mentally as well as physically.
  • If this doesn’t help in reducing stress, then you need to reach out for help. 

In a country like ours, seeking help from a psychologist is frowned upon. How can a person deal with mental health issues in such a scenario?

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Yes, that’s true. There is a stigma attached to going for help to a counsellor or a psychiatrist. There is a lack of awareness about mental health problems. They are dismissed as nothing and swept under the carpet for fear of being labelled ‘mad’ or ‘weak’. It is very sad that a lot of people go untreated because of this.
The only thing we can do is build awareness about it and talk about this in open forums. It is slowly changing. Word of mouth is a very important tool in building this awareness. The good news is that most hospitals now have a psychiatry department, who also have psychologists on board. Even if the families are against it, the person should reach out on their own. Chronic stress is difficult to deal with. So it’s better to take help at the earliest. 

A lot of times people may be depressed or suffer from anxiety but not realise it. So, how can a person identify that? When is the right time to see a psychologist? 

A rule of thumb is to check 3 things: a) Disturbance in sleep pattern (either not enough sleep or sleeping too much) b) Disturbance in eating patterns (either not eating enough or eating too much) c) Mood change. If these symptoms persist for more than two months, the person needs to seek help.

Indians are among the most depressed people in the entire world. In fact, a recent study shows how every 6th Indian is depressed. Apart from seeking professional counselling, what other things can help depression?

There is a difference between a depressed mood and a clinical depression. If it is clinical depression, there is an immediate need to meet a psychiatrist. If it a depressed mood, off and on, then the person can do the following:

  • Regulate sleep. (At least 7-8 hours)
  • Regulate food. Eat healthily. Lots of greens, fresh fruits, avoid junk food
  • One hour of physical activity daily) social interactions, at least twice a week
  • Yoga, meditation and relaxation exercises
  • Do not let negative thoughts in. This is one of the biggest stressors
  • Watch a comedy. Learn to laugh. Look for fun things to do. Laughter is the best medicine. It’s true!
  • Take holidays, even short ones are rejuvenating
  • Take out ‘me’ time. Do anything that makes you happy. Even 10 mins a day is good enough. Sing, dance, play, whatever works for you!

And how can people with panic & anxiety attacks make their condition better?

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Panic attacks and anxiety definitely need medical help. A psychiatrist would be able to diagnose the disorder, so you need to go for medical assessment. Other than medicines, CBT is the therapy required to come out of this. Only medicine will not help. Reach out to a counsellor along with medicine. 

Lastly, how do you think something as basic as following a healthy diet & exercise routine or following a hobby can keep a person healthy even mentally? 

Generally, if sleep, food, mood and relationships are good, then good mental health is assured. Then the only factor that can make a person mentally unhealthy would be their genes. If there are mental health problems in the family, there is a good chance that a person may develop a mental disorder.

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