Adolescence, it is said, is just one big walking pimple. That stage of life is now causing discomfort to medical professionals in Goa and specially those dealing with mental health as the number of visits by patients is growing alarmingly.
“Adolescents can today be grouped as high risk along with the elderly. The number of adolescents visiting clinics has increased after the pandemic,” observes Dr Tanvi Pednekar consultant psychiatrist, District Mental Health Programme (DMHP), at the North District Hospital.
North Goa has been the hub of substance abuse and prostitution since the doors were haphazardly opened for tourism and the subsequent advent of casinos, but the stress being faced by youngsters is linked to miscommunication between peers and their parents.
“Youngsters normally come to us with problems related to stress, anxiety and even relationship issues with parents,” admits Dr Pednekar, who covers mental health-related problems in North Goa through the seven Primary Health Centres (PHC) of Directorate of Health Services (DHS) she and her team visit every month.
“They want to take decisions and they are not allowed and there are cases where they do not want to take responsibility. The nice thing is that they are managing to break the stigma and approaching professionals for help,” says Dr Pednekar.
The increase in number of adolescents asking for help, according to Durga Chari, psychologist at DMHP, has increased after the pandemic. “The mental sting of COVID is more striking on adolescents,” she observes.
Alipio has just joined a college in the North and makes occasional trips to a PHC to meet with the DMHP team. “I became aware of them through a meeting. I was sceptical at first but their empathy is real and though not on medication, counselling has benefitted,” he says as he related his mental state now and then.
The DMHP team in the north, works through panchayats, NGOs and school counsellors to spread the word and break the stigma that mental health is not a social stigma but just another illness that has its own cure.
“Physical health and mental health are not different. If you need medication for physical health, mental health needs it too. With the Mental Health Act of 2017, the autonomy lies with the patient,” reasons Pednekar.
The shift in approach by patients and medical professionals is appearing distinctive after the new Mental Health Act with doctors now communicating more and giving a hearing to patients too.
Dr Tanvi Pednekar, consultant psychiatrist, DMHP
“Psycho education is about giving a bigger role to the kin of patients where they too are made aware of the illness, share the problems they face and share in deciding a solution where all are comfortable,” briefs Pednekar with a slant on family aiding the patient.
Mental health, according to Pednekar, depending on the gravity of the illness, can be addressed through counseling and that “medication is necessary only when cases aggravate. Life skill training has been started for teachers.”
There was a time when suicide rates were high and that was because, according to opinions of many psychiatrists, despite being preventable it was a problem that was stigmatized.
“Suicide was decriminalised a few years ago and the step has changed the perception of the sickness and people who now feel helpless are aware that there is someone around ready to help and a way of accessing that help,” assures Pednekar.
Like many psychiatrists, Pednekar is also of the opinion that the State is desperately in need of more doctors in the field of mental health. “We need more mental health professionals and the PHC set up needs to be incorporated with mental health,” rues Pednekar.
Psychiatrists who join the DHS end up leaving for better prospects and one reason could be because most mental health professionals are retained on contract basis, unlike other doctors.
Passing acts on mental health is one aspect, retaining a core of good doctors is another that needs urgent attention.