Features | 5 min read | by Khrisha Shah

“Only Mental Health Awareness Can Combat the Upcoming Epidemic of Depression in India,” says Ishita Pateria

In conversation with Ishita Pateria, counseling psychologist and psychotherapist, who runs State of Mind – The Emotional Wellness Centre in Mumbai. She’s looking to collaborate with others interested in spreading awareness about mental health, in the form of workshops, seminars and discussions. Chat with Ishita on Dysco if you’re interested. 

Growing up in India, Ishita recognised that mental health was often not given the importance it deserves. She witnessed multiple situations where people were suffering due to the lack of education and treatment available, and felt compelled to learn more about how mental health can be treated and addressed. Ishita has undertaken extensive training and research at some of the best institutions and from acclaimed doctors, spurred by her desire to tackle this challenge at home in India, where mental health and psychological issues are considered taboo and are largely ignored by society. We see more people engaging with others and sharing their experiences within online communities and forums, however, these are still not mainstream and open enough to educate people in masses. Technology has been an enabler, especially as it offers a certain degree of anonymity and privacy to those who want to ask questions or talk about their issues. However, it’s crucial to bring these interactions offline, so people can get more accurate diagnoses and treatment. With that in mind, Ishita is looking to spread awareness about the cause, through workshops, seminars and other collaborative efforts. “It is predicted that depression is soon going to be the largest epidemic in India. I believe that we should all try and work together in order to prevent this in which ever way we can,“ she says.

“One doesn’t need to have a diagnosis to approach a psychologist.”

What’s your background and why you decided to pursue explore the issue of mental health as career?
I am a counselling psychologist and psychotherapist and have been working in the field of mental health for almost 10 years now. Growing up in India, I recognised mental health was often not given the importance it deserves. Psychologists and counselors were often not equipped to handle situations brought to them. For example, our school counselor threatened students with eating disorders by telling them they were going to die, rather than actually counselling them. I heard stories of girls suffering from sexual abuse who were forced to maintain silence and not seek help due to the stigma and taboo related to it. Psychologists would often misdiagnose and treat patients incompetently and psychiatry clinics would regularly employ ECT due to lack of motivation. Having been exposed to many such situations, I became inquisitive and motivated to understand this field, its importance and its advancements.

What exactly is State of Mind, and what do you offer those who come to you?
My centre is called State of Mind – The Emotional Wellness Centre. We provide quality individual therapy, couples therapy, and family therapy. Our clients are provided with a safe and confidential environment where they can process their feelings, emptions, and troubles. The centre uses an integrative approach, as the type of therapy depends on the needs and requirements of each client. We provide client-specific treatments, which include techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy, person centred therapy, psychodynamic therapy, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing, amongst others. Our centre does not offer clients advice, rather we use the techniques mentioned above to give the client different perspectives. This allows them to understand themselves better, by making them more self aware about their troubles and concerns. We follow this up with effective coping mechanisms and strategies.
Clients come to us for various issues including abuse, addiction, anger, anxiety, bereavement and grief, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobia, stress management and trauma. Furthermore, many clients come simply for personal growth and self awareness. One doesn’t need to have a diagnosis to approach a psychologist. It is always beneficial to go seek help rather than be troubled by ourselves. In addition to State of Mind, I also consult at MPower – mind matters, and Dr. Mushru’s Mumbai clinic.

What kind of training and experience did you require to become specialised in this field? 
I joined St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology. In order to gain practical experience, I started working simultaneously at the psychiatry department of Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, under Dr. Rajesh Parikh, where my role entailed coordinating psychiatric clinical trials, providing cognitive and supportive care to the patients, taking patient histories and helping in diagnostics and treatment plans for the patients. I also first authored a chapter on the Role of stress in First Trimester Miscarriage: Pregnancy at Risk in A Practical Approach to High Risk Pregnancy and Delivery, 5th edition along with Dr. Firuza Parikh and Dr. Shamsah Sonawalla. It was here that I discovered my true calling for counselling psychology. I was always drawn to clients who didn’t simply have a biochemical disorder but had problems rooted cognitively, emotionally or via situations or experiences. I learnt that my passion wasn’t constricted to the clinical aspects of psychology but was more reflective. I also recognised that I wanted an overall well rounded experience and therefore wanted to work at as many different centres as possible.

I then moved to London where I first finished a certificate course in counselling from Regents College, London followed by a Master of Science in Mental Health & Psychotherapy from St. Bart’s Hospital, Queen Mary University, London. My thesis emphasised on the effect of divorce on mental health. During this time I worked at Promis clinics, London where I counselled adolescents and adults suffering from various substance addictions, compulsive behaviours, eating disorders, personality disorders, self-harm, depression and anxiety.

After completing my degree, I retuned back to India where I worked as a counselling psychologist for Dr. Rajesh Parikh at the psychiatry department and for Dr. Firuza Parikh at the IVF department of Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai. I counselled adults suffering with psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, phobias, stress and eating disorders amongst others and provided individual and couples counselling for issues including infertility and marital problems. I also joined an NGO affiliated with Tata hospital, V Care, where I counselled adults and children suffering from cancer and their caregivers accordingly.

In need of further training, I returned to London and pursed my second Master of Science in Counselling Psychology from City University, London. During this time, I worked at the National Problem Gambling Clinic; a NHS clinic which focused on adults suffering with problem gambling and dealt with comorbid problems including other compulsive addictions, depression, anxiety and suicide. I also worked at Each Counselling, London, which focused on women suffering from domestic abuse. During this time, I specialised in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and person centred therapy.

Have you encountered any challenges along the way, especially working in India?
I faced several challenges along the way. Unlike in the west, most people in India do not give mental health and therapy the priority it deserves. There is a huge stigma and taboo attached with mental health, so most people don’t seek the help they need. Even clients who do, often don’t prioritise it. It’s not uncommon for them to miss sessions or not do the work that they have been asked to between each session.
Secondly, most of our clients don’t tell their family and friends that they are seeking therapy, for the same reasons mentioned earlier. As a result, their lives can become quite disconnected, because they’re unable to share aspects discussed in therapy with their loved ones. As a result, they often end up missing a lot of sessions.
Lastly, many people struggle to understand that psychotherapy and counselling is a process. They often come and want to be ‘fixed’ within a session. However, one needs to understand that counselling is not a magic wand; it requires time and patience both by the client and therapist in order for the true work to happen.