Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh, a neuropsychiatrist by profession, transitioned from a professor to a private practitioner during the lockdown times. Lockdown acted as a career change in her life, as she changed her career from a Medical College Professor to a Private Consultant, Neuropsychiatrist.
Professionally Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh has seen many cases, including those via teleconsultations during the lockdown. The pandemic has given rise to the surge of Depression and anxiety. “Overall if I would say about the lockdown experience, it turned out to be an opportunity for me to grow as a Professional and challenging in terms of changing my career”, says Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh.
1. Could you tell us something about your background in Neuropsychiatry? Did you always have a plan to start your medical journey with this specialization?
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh: Since childhood, I have had a dream of becoming a doctor. But I never thought of choosing Psychiatry specifically, as a profession. When I was doing my MBBS From JJ Hospital, we didn’t get much exposure to the subject of psychiatry.
In MBBS psychiatry was treated as an optional subject, people did not focus much on it. During my internship, we had a 15-day posting in psychiatry, that was the time I developed an interest in the field and thought to specialize in this branch. In my first two months of residency, I became very sure that this was what I wanted to do.
2. Your Instagram feed has indelible information about mental and sexual health. If you could advise our audience on how to have a balance between maintaining a healthy mental state and a healthy lifestyle in the era of so much stress?
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh: Today’s lifestyle has turned into a stressful one. To manage and to have a balance there is a need for:
1. Recognition of stress: Most people don’t recognize that they are under stress. There are physical and psychological manifestations of stress. The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge you have one.
2. Managing your stress: Once you acknowledge the fact that you are under stress or you identify that you have a problem, then you can take a step ahead to manage that stress.
As far as Mental Health is concerned what I recommend is “Seven Ss”:
Socializing: This actually means having a social network, a support group that always has your back. Not only the “social media” friends but having real-life friends, who can be there for you.
Slowing down: Slowing down, unwinding, taking breaks from daily routines, meditating, or doing things that interest you and relax your mind is important.
Soma: Soma means body. There are things that include taking care of your body and physical health. This can be done through a healthy diet, proper workout, and having sufficient sleep. Our mind lives in our body. So taking care of your body is good for your mind too.
Self-love: taking care of yourself, indulging yourself in your favorite hobbies. Taking regular breaks will also give you an opportunity to create an indelible bond with yourself.
Social services: Volunteering or involvement in social service, helping others gives you contentment and helps improve your mental health.
Setting realistic goals: Setting a goal is very important to have a direction in life. Time management and stress management are also very essential when it comes to setting a goal. Scheduling your week, developing healthy coping skills is important.
Seek Help: Seeking help on time is very important. Seeking professional help can help you reverse symptoms and make your functioning better. It’s is a sign of strength, not weakness.
“These are the ‘Seven S’ that one may follow to have good mental health,” says Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh.
3. In India, people and society as a whole are still very reluctant to talk about mental or sexual health. How do you think we can change this, and what are some measures you take up to do the same?
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh: When we talk about mental and sexual health, we can talk about it w.r.t. two aspects, the first aspect is “Wellness” and the other is “Illness”. Maintaining mental health is the wellness part.
In our country maintaining health, in general, is never given a priority unless there is a health-related emergency. People should focus on prevention too, maintaining a good healthy physical and mental state, maintaining a good lifestyle, managing day-to-day stress.
Another part that needs our attention is an illness. An individual needs to recognize early symptoms of common mental illnesses. What is lacking, is awareness. People are also ignorant about sexual health and illnesses due to the same reason, ignorance.
In my opinion, basic education and awareness start from the school level. Education regarding mental and sexual health should start right from school. Also, instead of Googling their symptoms, people should go to legitimate sources to seek health-related information, like WHO and other health-related authorities.
4. You are very active on Instagram and use very innovative and creative reels to give out information about sensitive topics which are still taboo if talked about in public. What are the ways people can be more aware and educated about the same?
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh- People should seek out accurate information from health-related authorities or their own doctors. There are also qualified professionals on Instagram and other social media platforms who are giving authentic information and are getting more active on social media.
However, one of the most common issues that arise on social media is that people ask for personal medical advice and help. This is inaccurate on so many levels. The professional needs to take a detailed history to evaluate your case and give advice accordingly, such advice should be sought through proper consultations and not chats.
Also, Google will provide only information, if you want to get more knowledge please have a conversation with a professional.
5. People going through depression or anxiety are victims but society blames the patient themselves for their conditions, any message you would like to give to people about the same?
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh- There is a lot of judgment and blame that people suffer from on top of the illnesses themselves! Just like Diabetes or Asthma, Depression and Anxiety are also medical illnesses. Depression and Anxiety are real illnesses and the commonest ones too.
Despite their rising number, the majority of the cases remain untreated as people feel shame to come out because of the stigma in society.
One needs to understand that these are symptoms and illnesses that are not reflective of one’s character or flaws in one’s character. Anyone can develop a mental illness, and they can be treated.
6. Being a neuropsychiatrist, there were so many challenges you had faced in your career, please tell us some of the challenges that made you grow in your career?
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh- All my education was completed in Mumbai. I graduated from JJ Hospital Mumbai, completed my Post Graduation from LTMMC, Sion Hospital, and did my DNB from BARC Hospital, Trombay. I have always been a hard-working student and have fortunately always got an opportunity to work in good institutions. It has been an incredible journey throughout.
However, when I was doing my last degree, in DNB Psychiatry from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), it was very challenging because I had become a mother. I had an infant and I had to give a difficult exam. So I had to balance early motherhood with my higher education. It was tough.
Later, I worked as an Asst. Professor in Terna Medical College. It was interesting to teach budding doctors alongside clinical work.
Every time there was a transition in my career, I believe there was growth. I believe every change, teaches you something and encourages that growth.
7. Who has been your constant support and pillar during all this time? Is there someone you look up to as an inspiration?
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh- As far as my support system is concerned, my family is very supportive, especially my father was very supportive of my medical career. My mother helped me a lot during the difficult times when I had just become a mother myself. Since my post-graduation, my husband has been a constant support. He always pushes me to learn new things. My daughter has also been of immense support!
There are a lot of people who have inspired me- my teachers especially, not only as doctors but some genuinely awesome human beings!! Also a lot of women practitioners in the field of neuropsychiatry, the way they handle their personal and professional life- not just seniors but also my contemporaries- is very inspirational.
8. Any two things that you have learned through all the experiences in life?
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh- Firstly, whenever there is discomfort and challenges in one’s life, there is a chance to grow. In fact, every time when one gets too comfortable, one needs that push to get out of their comfort zone. There is always a scope to grow and we’re all a “Work in Progress”, so we need to constantly work on ourselves to become better.
The second thing is there should always be a goal and a purpose to your life with both a personal and a social dimension. I believe in “Ikigai”
Dr. Aparna Bhagat Deshmukh is a Neuropsychiatrist who is well aware of the stereotypes that surround mental and sexual health in our society and is trying ways and methods to make people more comfortable about discussing these very issues for the betterment of their overall health and well-being.