Dr. Devashish Palkar, the new-age mental health professional, based in Surat, found his inner calling in the mental health domain and pursued a career. He believes that mental health issues have a first-hand solution through communication, communicating with oneself, with loved ones, and interacting with nature; each has its impact on aiding better mental health of individuals.
Dr. Devashish Palkar, along with working at one of the hospitals in Surat, also extends online counseling sessions and runs an Instagram page. He is always affirmative when it comes to supporting the cause of normalizing mental health issues and the idea of taking help to address the related concerns.
Icy Tales is in conversation with Dr. Devashish Palkar, where he shares his opinion and concerns as a mental health professional.
Q. Let’s start by knowing you and your journey?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: I have completed my MD in Psychiatry and my Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Hypnosis, which is commonly used in therapeutic interventions. I am also trained as a cognitive-behavioral therapist; I am currently a senior resident and working as a mental health professional in one of the government hospitals based in Surat.
I have been very passionate about this domain since quite early, and my journey with mental health started back when I was in eleventh & twelfth grade when I had to seek mental health assistance. Fortunately, I came in contact with one of the excellent consultants based in Baroda.
Dr. BM Palan Sir was a clinical hypnotherapist. He guided me for a couple of sessions, and I was able to overcome my issues. I did well on my boards, and when I got through MBBS, my natural choice was inclined toward mental health. So what was my passion eventually became my profession.
Q. When we talk about mental health, there are a lot of stigmas attached; what is your take on that?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: Yes, definitely stigma is the inevitable part that cannot be neglected, so instead, we can embrace it, which further gives us the reason to talk more about it to spread awareness. People talk about other disorders, though it cannot be denied that there was much misinformation regarding them earlier.
It was through spreading awareness that helped get people to know about it. Thanks to e-media and social media platforms, the conversations on mental health have started; people are talking more freely about it. So I think the best time to work on mental health was yesterday, and it’s also today; the good thing is that stigma is reducing day by day. Especially after the Covid-19 pandemic, people have realized the importance of mental health.
As a society, we must collectively tackle stigma by sharing more and more stories to make people aware of the need and importance of individual mental health. The more we talk about it, the more normalized it shall become, and we should attempt to take care of our mental health just like we do for our physical health.
Q. Can you tell our readers why talking about mental health is an essential requirement today?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: As we are aware that the pandemic has resulted in a lot of disruption in our lives over the past two years, people have lost their jobs, and the finances and economy aren’t doing well either: in addition to that, one is not unaware of the fact that India being a resource-poor country has an ever-growing population.
So these factors have contributed to the aggravation of the competition levels; be it students or the corporate sector, everyone is competing neck to neck with one another. This kind of competition and the prevailing environment is causing a lot of stress at the physical and mental levels, making people more vulnerable to suffering from mental health burn out with other threats.
Hence, talking about it is essential, and now that services are readily available and accessible due to digital advancements, we must talk about it more and more.
Q. Traumatic experiences have deep scary mental impressions; how can someone move ahead of that?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: Traumatic experiences when getting into the subconscious mind lead to certain physical and mental health disorders, so it’s not just the mental health that gets affected post any traumatic incident; even the physical health is affected. Now physical health aspect is easily talked about, but the mental health aspect gets missed.
Again, the stigma attached to mental health issues prevents individuals from talking about their experiences, so the traumatic experiences are not processed so well. When the person opens up about these experiences and talks about them through a guided therapeutic discourse, the person understands the state of their emotions during that particular point in time.
It is crucial to understand that whenever we undergo any traumatic experiences, our mind tries to overcompensate with Anxiety; Anxiety is a very usual and natural response of the body because our mind wants to protect us from a similar incident the next time. So once we understand why we have thoughts regarding this event, what are our thoughts, and how are the emotions connected to this event.
Then, it becomes possible for us to cognitively re-appraise the situation, i.e., when we start speaking about it and look at it with a different perspective; we can heal ourselves and walk out of the traumatic experiences, but it takes time, and it can only happen when the person is ready to open up about it by talking it out. So that is how one processes the traumatic experiences.
Q. Anxiety kills, as the saying goes: it’s a terrible place to be in; what is an immediate recourse to overcome that state of mind?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: First and foremost, one must understand that anxiety is a very natural response, and one cannot altogether avoid it; Anxiety is just like pain; one cannot avoid pain physically altogether. Like pain indicates that some part of the body that is in pain needs our attention; similarly, anxiety is the response of our mind, which indicates that one’s mind and emotions need some attention.
As I mentioned earlier, anxiety happens when our brain tries to overcompensate for whatever event has occurred or exaggerate the fear. So once we realize the purpose behind our anxiety, the emotions we have regarding the anxiety and the kind of present thoughts we have when we are anxious, and once we realize that, anxiety becomes manageable.
If one is looking forward to managing anxiety at the moment itself, then there are various options like medicines; which are only administered when the anxiety levels are very debilitative; there are also various therapeutic techniques like when one is overthinking and having worrisome thoughts then they should write it down and once penned down on a piece of paper it makes one feel better.
Apart from that, try regulating the breathing process; basically, deep breathing acts on our brain like any medicine as it aids in relaxing our body and mind. When we are anxious, our heartbeat increases, we sweat, and we get tremors so all these are physical manifestations of anxiety, so our body is also affected. Conversely, when we try to relax our bodies, our mind also follows the same state of relaxation, so the first-hand response should be to relax our bodies and mind.
There are also various techniques for relaxing the body: deep breathing, which we have already discussed; other techniques involve ‘progressive muscle relaxation where we try and relax each group of muscles in our body and subsequently our mind also starts to relax. Another ancient technique, “Yog-Nidra,” also aids in relaxation. So these are the various techniques that can be quickly used to manage our anxiety.
Q. What suggestions do you have for stress management?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: When we talk about stress, it is mainly related to some particular situation like exams or allotted work, so the first thing one should do is find out the trigger; once the identification of the trigger is made, try to problem-solve through that event. If the trigger is something related to work, talk with your colleagues and friends to isolate the problem area and work on it to improve things.
It is also essential to retain mental health during stressful circumstances, so try working around one’s hobbies. Hobbies have a fundamental purpose of relaxing our minds, so do pursue your hobbies and have something to take your mind off for breaks, be it music, television shows, playing with pets, etc.
It is imperative to differentiate between your work-related stress and managing your life; in the event of working, one must not forget that there is a life outside the workplace. Stress management is holistic care, where one must take care of their body and mind. All these would help bring the stress levels down.
There are fundamental techniques to maintain these like doing regular physical activities, focusing on sleep habits, minimum of six to seven hours of sound sleep, and taking a proper nutritious diet, so this help regulate the body and mind, which further makes it easier for stress management.
Another helpful practice is taking walks in nature, staying close to nature at least once a day, taking a walk or sitting by your balcony, and watching the sunset; all these activities are required to decrease our stress levels every day.
One must also ensure that they are not running away from stress; stress is an inevitable part of our existence, so we have to learn to manage it; because without stress, we will not be motivated, but when stress is excessive, it causes anxiety, so we have to work out a path where we can handle stress and give our optimal performance. And talk to people! Outgrow the inhibitions and reach out to loved ones because even talking about it also helps.
Q. What has been your observation on mental health issues during and post-pandemic period?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: There were a different host of issues before the pandemic and after the pandemic; when Covid started entering India, it was a slow rising wave, so there was a lot of confusion regarding how the COVID-19 would spread, so there was a lot of misconception about it.
Some people lived in total denial; they would reject the existence of the virus and portray it as a conspiracy theory, which is why they developed anxiety issues. On the other hand, some people were over-anxious about their health concerns; they would not touch anything, not step out of their house, and their personal lives were hampered.
After the Covid; when people suffered from covid and came back home from the hospital since some of them were severe cases and had to be on life support; some of these people have developed what we call ‘post-traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD); some people come and tell me that even now they wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air as if they were on oxygen support. Anxiety is a commonly seen symptom because covid causes many inflammatory changes, so whenever we have inflammatory changes in our body, it directly hampers our mental health.
Again when we talk about the psycho-social aspects of covid; a lot of plans of people got intercepted, marriages were stalled, jobs were lost, a lot of businesses underwent changes while some succumbed to it, and the financial loss and pressure forced people even to commit suicide, we cannot forget the migrant crisis, so those were very challenging times.
Another factor was when covid waves were at their peak, hospitals focused on covid patients, and in this attempt, other health issues took a back seat, particularly mental health issues, counseling appointments, medicines schedules, and doses had to be delayed, which in total resulted in worsening the existing conditions.
It’s good that now things are getting back to normal, and touchwood, another pandemic situation, does not come to haunt us again. Another important thing is people who lost their loved ones during the pandemic; they have also suffered a lot.
Recently I had a few people coming to me, who had lost their loved one last year in April and May, who was dealing with some mental health issues; this is called the anniversary reaction, which means that the person experiences the anxiety which they use to experience one year back when their loved one was in the hospital or had succumbed to the pandemic. This also needs to be discussed, especially with those who have survived the pandemic but unfortunately lost their loved ones.
Q. Mental health struggles have inevitably become a part of the LGBTQ + community; as a mental health expert, how do you think we can help not aggravate the issues?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: When we talk about the LGBTQ+ community and their rights, the movement is also picking up pace, simultaneously with the mental health-related movement. The mental health fraternity and the LGBTQ+ community have to work hand in hand; there are issues that the community people face, especially acceptance from society—particularly the opening up to their loved ones and being accepted readily.
Here the role of a therapist or counselor comes into play. Even when a person wants to have a Sex Re-assignment Surgery (SRS), there is a requirement when the psychiatrist has to take a session with the person, help them in explaining the process, the changes they would be going through and help them with the anxiety and depression the person is going through. In addition to this, it is also on the part of the counselor to counsel their family members and make them understand that it would be very much a regular thing,
Q. What is your advice to someone fighting their battle with mental health?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: Please realize that this is a phase and not your entire life, and there is always a chance that life will be better and this phase will eventually pass, given the proper consultation, time, and adequate assistance from mental healthcare professionals. Keep fighting your battle courageously and talking about it; there are various options and opportunities to seek help.
Even for those with financial restrictions, various NGOs provide mental healthcare assistance free of cost or at a nominal service cost. So do avail of the services; if one keeps their suffering to themselves, it keeps building up the anxiety, so do talk about it, be open about it, and share it because there is no harm in accepting that one is suffering from mental health issues, just like one is not ashamed to talk and seek assistance for any physical issues. So please don’t shy away or hide your mental health struggles; once you normalize that, your guilt and anxiety will go off, and it will help you with the recovery process.
Q. What are your take on the hustle culture and its impact on mental health?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: Everyone wants to become a part of the hustle culture and is running the rat race. Therefore to understand the limitations and the pros and cons of entering into the hustle culture, it is essential to realize that one needs to enjoy the life, the day you have got. Do not be greedy; be passionate and understand that you have a life beyond your work and passion.
Try maintaining the relationship with your family and friends; it is sad to see that due to this hustle culture, many a time, people get so indulged in their passion that other aspects are neglected. This practice is not the right thing to do because, over time, people do get exhausted and burn out while they are working overtime.
Stay connected with people; social connection with people is quintessential, and live these connections with physical media; meet then, interact with them in person rather than just staying connected through social media. Physical interaction is essential, and it should not be neglected.
Q. What advice do you have for working people and students on nurturing their mental health?
Dr. Devashish Palkar: Whenever you are working on any passion or project, understand that if you want to work together and work longer on the project for a long time, you must take proper care of your physical and mental health. To perform in your work field, you must holistically nurture your mind and body: do regular exercise, follow a regulated sleep cycle, have a proper nutrient-rich diet, stay connected with people and stay connected with nature.
To sum it up, physical activities, adequate rest, mental relaxation and a good diet are of utmost importance so don’t forget that. These are some fundamental things, but they have a lot of impacts. Please understand spending some time for your physical activities, meditation, or relaxation. You are not going to waste your time: so don’t fall into the trap of feeling guilty for relaxing because unless and until your body and mind are relaxed, they won’t be able to support you in performing and excelling in your aim.
Dr. Devashish Palkar subtly highlights the need of the hour; to normalize mental health and its importance in our everyday lives. Dr. Devashish Palkar explains how mental health is at par with physical fitness and how we seek help and expert assistance when in need. Similarly, we must feel free to seek expert assistance for mental health when needed. Dr. Devashish Palkar’s idea is the more we talk about it, the better it gets, which furthers the cause of helping people overcome the mental health battles they are fighting. So let’s start talking about it; it’s natural and normal.