The demand for mental health providers has rapidly risen. While the cause is understandably worrisome, it has also pleasantly surprised me. You see, I belong to the age when taking up Social Sciences and Humanities was not for the ace students. In fact, nobody really chose it; it was somewhere you landed up if you didn’t make it to any of the other lists.
With both my parents being doctors (the real kind), us hailing from Kota, the “doctors and IITians churning city” in Rajasthan and being a good science student, it was expected that I would follow in their footsteps. Life had other plans for me, or in retrospect, dare I say better plans.
Social studies deal with human behaviour, relationships, resources, and institutions. The study of psychology emphasises the brain biology, cognition, emotions and mental processes of individual humans. According to the American Psychological Association, it is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour. Research heavily relies on studying brain physiology, diagnosis requires precision in observation of cognitive, emotional and behavioural symptoms and treatment requires solid knowhow of therapy and the fine art of making conversation and connection.
It is thus a highly complex subject that crosses frontiers of the sciences and social studies, with stealth and sensitivity, mistaken as an estranged refugee, significantly undermined in its significance.
The year 2020 has changed many things. It took a pandemic for people to start recognising that we are human, have a brain that does more than perform in exams or cracking deals at work. We have a mind that impacts health, emotions and life in general. And this “mind” needs attention.
Years into practice, several university friends of mine, switched careers because of a total lack of opportunities in the field, pitiful salaries, a frustrating lack of awareness and no respect for the profession. With a rise in mental health issues, relationship concerns, stress at work, the impact of technology on social relationships and in general, lifestyles compromised in terms of health and happiness, people are now seeking support from psychologists. Covid 19 has changed the world. This virus not only impacted the body of the one that contracted it, but got into the heads of many more people causing fear and stress-related consequences.
There has been an incline in the number of actively practising psychologists, counsellors, life coaches and mental health workers. Those who had quit are back in the grind to provide more hands-on-deck and countless are studying courses to become psychologists. In the last few months, I have had several calls from parents actually excited about their children picking psychology as their field of study and career.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for psychologists overall is to grow by 19 per cent between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the 7 per cent average growth predicted for all occupations.
It is not that we have not seen natural disasters earlier. We have been through wars and terrorist attacks, earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes that have brought down a city, state or country. This time though, with the entire world in the grip of fear and uncertainty, the human mind got pushed to the edge of sanity, not only awakening people to the need of shrinks but also finding it less shameful or unfortunate to have to see one, as “many others are having to see one too”.
People have also begun to recognise that many symptoms and physical diseases have their roots in stress, that medication is not the only answer, that prevention is possible and that there exists a qualified professional, who has studied between five to eight years (or more), depending on qualifications, to help develop strategies to identify, cope and learn from stress better. From a time when many psychologists needed more work, doubled up between jobs to make ends meet to now when for the first time in life, they have no time, the journey has been hard and well-deserved.
The pandemic is just a trigger, the real cause is the conscious realisation and willingness to receive that the mind is an all-important asset. Every mental health professional will agree when I say that this time for us is not a vindication to finally being recognised as contributors, important, in-demand or respect-worthy. It is a celebration of the fact that people have begun to take notice of their own minds and health as worthy investments.
This revolution and transformation in attitudes were much needed and long overdue. Mental illness, which was horribly stigmatised, is being discussed more openly and sensitively. While much work remains to be done in the awareness department, people are a little more accepting of mental health concerns and treatments, not judging them as karmic punishments, irreparable insanity or asylum worthy diseases, giving treatment and rehabilitation a chance.
That is not all. It is not only for diagnosable conditions that people have started seeking the help of a psychologist but also for self-work, resilience building and perception management for better health, functioning and quality of life.
Just like a stomach upset with the entry of something unwanted in your gut, your health also depends upon what enters your mind. Unhealthy choices in cognition is not a weakness, it is a side-effect of not ever being taught or made aware of this fact that we can make choices in perceptions and engagement thereby impacting our lives. This is why we all need a qualified professional to listen objectively, let you sound off your thoughts that you did not take time to notice earlier, cope with the past, show you your strengths and point out growth areas. One who can support constructive change, perceptions to empower, adapt and persist, help to maintain health, cognitive and happiness hygiene and steer us towards being healthier and mindful versions of ourselves.
(The author is a Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist)
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