The Weekend Interview: Pandemic Has Scarred Young Minds, Attend To Them, Says Acclaimed Psychiatrist Prof Alok Bajpai
Trained in Psychiatry at NIMHANS, a premier institute of mental health at Bengaluru, Prof Alok Bajpai did two stints at Australia, then returned finally to India as he felt he was more required by his own people. He joined Regency Hospital, Kanpur, as a Consultant Psychiatrist. To Prof Bajpai goes the credit of setting up Uttar Pradesh’s first mental health clinic for children and adolescences in 2008.
He had, at the beginning of the pandemic, warned that when things are about to reach the 'New Normal' there will be a huge demand for psychiatric and psychologists to deal with the breed of lockdown imprisoned mental patients. It is happening now. There is a huge upscaling of people who need mind healers today.
Post COVID-19 survival requires adaptation and acceptance through enhancing of our critical thinking ability. He says that the human species will have to undergo a total transformation of both the mind and lifestyle. The young must be taught to practice adaptability and must learn to increase their coping strength. The doctor is confident that Social suffering will help heal humanity.
It has been a long 16 months since COVID-19 hit us in India. How do you view the world around us today?
Lots has changed in these months. The virus has affected our psychology. We have shifted gears from regional to global. In a way, you can say that human suffering has brought humanity together and closer. The virus has taught us that ‘I’ is not enough, it has to be WE. Hands holding is the mode needed for human survival. The sooner this lesson is learned the better. After all, Mankind cannot live or progress in isolation.
Normal and abnormal norms vary. How do you classify mental illness?
As a doctor, I can say with experience in these nearly quarter of a century of work that there are around 15 percent who suffer from serious mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar and the majority, which is roughly around 85 percent are those who are really not ill, they just require to learn how to handle the stress in their life. All they require us to rethink and readjust keeping in mind that the world is a big family and that they are just one unit of this family.
Your prediction in the initial days of the pandemic, regarding mental healthcare taking priority over other ailments has come true. Your comments?
Frankly it required no rocket science to make those predictions. A global health issue of the magnitude of COVID-19 was bound to leave its impact both on the minds as well on the body. This is particularly true of ‘imprisoned’ children and adolescences. In these months there has been a huge rise in the cases of people who are going through depression, insomnia, and hallucinations.
The second wave was lethal. Many lost their near and dear ones and that too under very scary circumstances too which included lack of medicines, hospital beds, life saving oxygen etc. The fear of being alone has shaken their souls. Many lost their livelihood and the youth and children were forced to be imprisoned in their own houses. Humanity is carrying a voluminous load of pain and suffering. Many have buckled under the pressure. Healing is only possible if we volunteer to undertake a complete mental adjustment in the New Normal.
You specialize in child and adolescent mental health, tell us about the first child and adolescent mental health center you established in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in 2008.
I have always felt that it is our children and our youth who require expert mental handling. The reason is that while the children are not able to either understand or articulate what they are feeling the youth feels too embarrassed to accept that they are not able to cope up with their emotions.
Both of them are therefore bottling up emotions. Both require expert handling. Also in our country parents, most of the time are very assertive in giving Gyan irrespective of the fact whether it is required or not or if required in what quantity. This peer pressure creates a rift between the generations and often leads to a disastrous outcome.
By setting up this clinic 13 years back I sent out the message to all such parents that whenever they notice some behavioural change in their children they must not ignore it, they must see if it persists and then approach a trained mental healer who can aid in clearing up these mental cobwebs.
Pandemic witnessed an upsurge of online medical consultations. Is it a welcome trend in the medical world?
This was needed and was the only way of dealing with medical emergencies during the lockdown but online medical consultation to my mind cannot be a permanent solution for illnesses. Especially in psychiatry, it is very important that the doctor meets the patient personally and not the virtual world.
It is important that I talk to him directly, face to face. His facial expression, his eye contact, and above all his reactions to my queries and his body language are all very important for a psychiatrist to arrive at any medical conclusions and decide the medicine and dose required to be given.
The third wave is said to be especially risky for children?
Only time can tell, but we have to be careful when schools re-open and children come in contact with the outside world after staying safe indoors for so many months. Parents must tutor their children about the COVID-19 protocol. The school authorities must also take special care and apart from the physical distancing and masks the teachers must ensure that the mental health of the students is also taken care of.
Please do share with us details about the Mahatma Gandhi Project?
An Hour With the Mahatama is an exclusive workshop designed for educational institutions. It aims at enhancing the critical thinking ability which is the key to healthy living. Like for the body you have to develop the immune system for the mind you have to work on your mind.
In the workshops, we teach children that by using simple techniques they can empower their minds. For the past 15 years with a dedicated team, I have been promoting this. I believe that Mahatama Gandhi is the truest example of a recent human who can be called the ‘Master of transformation theory.’ And 24x 7 he trained his mind, experimented with everything he came across and then picked up and practiced what was needed and which suited the situation most.
What are Our takeaways from the pandemic which has gobbled borders, shown no age, colour, race, faith, class distinction?
First and foremost is that the Pandemic has put a brake on all instant solutions and promoted a way of life that is different from the maddening rush that had overtaken mankind. It has also taught us that Patience is the biggest virtue and that if we practice it will take us a long way.
Secondly, humans, especially the youth must realise that they have to break the happiness cycle and accept suffering as a way of life. They must also realise the good of society is the good of the individual
The one and most important last question. How do we cope with stress?
It is by tapping and rightly channelizing our ability. We must start living in the PRESENT we must remember the title of this film zindagi milegi na dobara. We must start living the moment and live one day at a time. This way we will improve the quality of our life and reduce our stress levels.
(The writer is a senior journalist and steady contributor for many media outlets of the country. She is widely respected for her passion-driven reporting of social causes, news features, interviews and development journalism reportag