Wellbeing

Mental Wellbeing – An Interview with a Clinical Psychologist

The basics of mental health

Mental health is about our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.

It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Depression affects people from all walks of life, of all ages and all backgrounds. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around mental health and some people think of depression as a weakness. Seeking treatment is highly recommended to all those who are affected worldwide. Here is an enlightening article which explains the facts, types, and symptoms of depression.

The #TimeToTalk Campaign

I’m honored to be contacted by Minahil Usama for #TimeToTalk campaign which is all about discussing mental health in detail, to make it accessible for everyone and to try to remove the social stigma around it. In this great initiative, she reached out to 8 of us bloggers and connected each of us to a clinical psychologist.

This initiative started after a Pakistani actress/model Anam Tanoli recently committed suicide in her house in Lahore. (This article is a must read about it). Another actress Nisha Malik committed suicide 2 years ago in her house. A former writer/model Annie Ali Khan was found dead in her apartment in July this year in Karachi. Suicide is a major global public health problem with more than 800,000 incidents worldwide annually. Seventy-five percent of the global suicides occur in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) which include Pakistan. Rates for men are consistently higher than for women. Given the legal, socio-cultural, and religious stigma of suicides in Pakistan, these figures are underestimated. There is an urgent need for a standard system of recording of suicides in Pakistan, so that true rates can be determined. This will help in informing policy and monitoring effectiveness of suicide prevention programs.

We are also raising awareness about ReliveNow which is a social startup which connects individuals to mental health professionals through video calls. This is especially for those who are suffering from mental health issues in silence and do not seek professional assistance. These online counseling sessions are convenient yet affordable.

In Pakistan, about 50 million people are suffering from clinical depression and other mental illnesses yet very few are talking about it or seeking solutions. 

I’m happy to announce that a part of this #TimeToTalk campaign is that anyone who mentions one of us gets 15% off on their first two sessions with the psychologists onboard. The bloggers who are a part of this campaign are as follows:

During this campaign, each of us is talking about mental health from our unique perspective. We’re getting together to make a difference. We would love your support.

Meet Marium Bajwa

Marium Bajwa is a clinical and counseling psychologist. She is currently practicing and running a mental health services start-up called Your Counselling Coach in Lahore.

She provides in-person and online psychological assessment, therapy and counseling. She is also working on various mental health awareness and wellness projects. She has an MS in Clinical and Counseling Psychology, certification in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy from Beck Institute of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, USA. She is also a certified Hypnotherapist from Hypnosis Motivational Institute, USA. Her experience comprises of working in multiple settings including public and private.

Marium was born in Tripoli, Libya. She was 13 years old when she saw a movie based on psychology. She says that she was fascinated by the subject then. She still is! She likes reading books and owns a photography studio.

It’s #TimeToTalk

Now that I have introduced you to Marium, let’s jump right in and interview her about mental wellbeing. It will be from a layman’s perspective and will cover the basics. Let’s go!

Q#1: What are the common forms of mental health disorders? 

  1. Depression – It is a mood disorder in which a person feels sad, empty, hopeless, appears tearful, has an irritable mood, experiences loss of interest and pleasure in activities and is unable to carry out daily activities
  2. Anxiety – It is a feeling of worry or nervousness over a future threat
  3. Panic Attacks – It is a sudden attack of intense fear or discomfort and can include symptoms like palpitation, accelerated heartbeat, trembling and shortness of breath
  4. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Obsessions are defined as repetitive, unwanted and intrusive thoughts, urges and images which cause marked anxiety/distress. Now to stop, suppress, ignore or neutralize these obsessions, one engages in repetitive behaviors (e.g washing hands, checking, ordering) or performs mental acts (e.g counting & repeating words). These repetitive behaviors and mental acts are known as compulsions
  5. Insomnia – Problems with sleep patterns
  6. Eating Disorders – Problem with eating patterns
  7. Schizophrenia – A combination of different features including delusions and hallucinations
  8. Bipolar Disorder – A combination of manic, depressive and hypomanic episodes
  9. Autism – A neurological disorder that affects learning and development. It is defined as a condition which includes deficits in social communication, social interaction, restricted and repetitive behaviors. The onset of autism is usually between 1-2 years of age
  10. Dyslexia – A learning disorder in which a child is unable to recognize words accurately/fluently. Among other signs, he can also be poor at spelling and creating words
  11. Substance-related disorders – Mental disorders caused by drug use/abuse

 Q#2: What is depression? What are its common forms, symptoms and solutions?

Depression is a mood disorder in which a person feels sad, empty, hopeless, appears tearful and has an irritable mood. He/she also experiences loss of interest/pleasure and is unable to carry out daily activities.

Some symptoms of depression are: loss of energy, change in appetite, irregular sleep pattern, anxiety, reduced concentration, indecisiveness, restlessness, feelings of worthlessness, guilt and thoughts of self-harm/suicide.

Some common types of depression are:

  • Major Depression – Feeling depressed most of the time
  • Seasonal Depression – Occurs during the winter season
  • Postpartum Depression – Occurs after childbirth
  • Premenstrual Depression – Occurs before the start of the menstrual cycle
  • Substance/Medication-Induced Depression – Dozens of medications which can cause it
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation – Depressive symptoms in children
  • Atypical Depression – Includes symptoms opposite of typical symptoms of depression

Following are some tips/solutions

  • Seek professional help: With the right help, you can get better
  • Exercise (even if it’s just a short walk)
  • Breathing exercises
  • Journaling is very effective. Write down your feelings and thoughts. This will give you clarity. Evaluating them will help in facilitating the recovery process
  • Talk to someone (you trust) about your feelings. Most people feel better after talking to someone. Venting is important
  • Try to stay in contact with family and friends. The support of caregivers, friends and family facilitates recovery
  • Try to stick to regular eating and sleeping habits
  • Refrain from using drugs/alcohol as they can worsen depression
  • If you feel suicidal, contact someone for help immediately. Many countries have a Suicide Prevention Helpline
  • Read some good motivational books
  • Be patient as recovery takes time

Q#3: We all go through turmoils in life. When we are hit by a major catastrophe (i.e. Death, illness, rape, divorce) can you suggest some tips to overcome grief and not fall into depression? Let’s also talk a little about PTSD. 

Everyone experiences grief differently. Grief has different stages (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance). The tragedies mentioned are very sensitive and each case requires a different therapy. Everyone has their own timeline for dealing with and overcoming grief. So there isn’t a general solution/remedy which would suit all cases. Since we all have unique bodies, we all have our distinct individual needs which require customized therapy.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs due to prolonged exposure to traumatic or stressful circumstances. The person could be directly affected or witnessing a loved one suffering.

Q#4: There are a lot of people in the world whose lives are confined. Either they are stuck in an abusive marriage, or they have obsessive parents. Life circumstances for many are intolerable and extremely harsh. How to keep your mental sanity in such cases? 

Psychologists cannot make decisions on behalf of their patients/clients. They can, however, provide guidance. Problem-solving, effective communication and being solution-oriented are the key skills. Most importantly changing your emotional response towards the situation and trying to understand things from others perceptive helps a lot in keeping your mental sanity in check.

Q#5: So many of us live away from spouse, family or friends. Can you please give tips for an expat or immigrant who has to cope with severe loneliness and stress of missing loved ones. We also feel like we don’t belong to another country and we’re a disconnect in society. How to handle the pressure?

Yes, moving abroad can be overwhelming and can make you feel lost. But why not see this major life transformation as an opportunity for personal growth, exploring new places, learning about the new culture, language, food and sharing all that with your loved ones at home? It’s all about which lens you use for perceiving things.

Q#6: How to handle a depressed family member (including spouse). How to keep a happy home environment despite some family members feeling miserable. 

  • Do not judge them or tell them that they are not making enough effort
  • Listen to them. Be patient and try to understand things from their perspective
  • Respect their limits
  • Support them in daily tasks. Make sure they visit a mental health professional
  • Stay in contact with them. Encourage them. Show your interest in their well being
  • Most importantly, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST as taking care of depressed loved ones can get really overwhelming and exhausting

Q#7: Is there a demographic pattern of victims of depression? Who are the most commonly affected individuals? 

According to the latest research reports, depression affects 44% of the entire population of Pakistan. Its prevalence is higher in women at 57.5% and 25% in men with numbers rising in children. Anyone can suffer from depression during any time of their lives. It is difficult to generalize a pattern.

Q#8: What are the common reasons for a panic attack? Should panic attacks be taken seriously? How to handle them? 

A panic attack is a sudden attack of intense fear or discomfort that reaches its peak within minutes. Everyone has a different trigger(s) for a panic attack. Usually what happens is that worry, stress and fear build up in your mind which activate some physiological changes like heavy/shallow breathing and accelerated heartbeat. We then misinterpret these physical cues as a real danger (like a heart attack or a feeling of dying). 
A panic attack is very serious and horrifying for the person who is experiencing it.
Anyone experiencing a panic attack should try the following:
  • Deep Breathing – Take deep breaths 
  • Grounding technique – Focus on things around you (look, feel, touch)
  • Talk to yourself: It cannot hurt me – this is only temporary – I am in control

Q#9: What is the best policy to avoid stress caused by obsessive fears? Some common ones are listed below:

  1. Fear of being stuck in closed spaces like lifts
  2. Fear of flying (airplanes)
  3. Fear of illness (Cancer)
  4. Fear of insects/cats
Marked anxiety or fear about specific object or situation is called a Phobia. There is a full therapy plan devised for an individual to overcome phobias. Techniques used are usually not recommended to be tried at home. Obsessions are a whole new topic.

It is important to seek professional help if you think you have obsessive fears or thoughts. A mental health professional will develop a customized therapy plan for you according to the nature of your obsessions. One tip that I would give is to ACCEPT your obsessive fears and thoughts.

Q#10: We all have fears which become a hindrance to our happiness. How to conquer common fears in life? 

  • Write down your fears
  • Evaluate them in categories: rational and irrational
  • Write down pros and cons of these fears, like what opportunities are you missing out on
  • It will increase your awareness about thought patterns behind fears too

Q#11: What is the difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist? What would your reply be to all those who still think that going to a Psychologist is only for those who are mad? 

Psychiatrist– is a trained medical professional who deals with mental health illness and CAN prescribe medicine.

Psychologist– is a trained mental health professional who studies behavior and mental processes which include mental illness but CANNOT prescribe medicine. They are trained in providing therapy and counseling.

Such a mentality is responsible for increasing others’ suffering.

Q#12: What are the differences between a Narcissist, Psychopath and Sociopath? Any suggestions for someone married to one?

Basically, these three are types of personality disorders. It is important to note that some people may have only few traits and may not fall into the criteria for diagnosis.

Narcissist – Such a person usually has an exaggerated sense of self-importance. He expects special treatment and requires excessive admiration. When it comes to marriage, such a person will want to stand out from his partner.

Psychopath – Psychopath is a term that is usually used to define anti-social behavior. A person who has anti-social traits might lack the tendency to empathize with others, which usually results in various marital problems.

Sociopath – Sociopath is also a term that is usually used to define anti-social behavior. They find it difficult to respect lawful behaviors and can be deceitful which results in various marital problems.

It is suggested to keep an eye on their behavioral patterns and deal with them accordingly. Further, I will prefer not to give any suggestions because every individual is unique and so their pattern of behaviors.

Following is an excellent YouTube video explaining the difference clearly.

Q#13: What is insomnia? Can you give some tips for dealing with it? 

The patient complains about the quality and/or quantity of sleep continuously.  Some symptoms are:
  • Difficulty in initiating sleep
  • Maintaining sleep
  • Early morning awakenings.

Following are some ways to deal with insomnia:

  1. DO NOT TAKE SLEEPING PILLS unless until they are prescribed
  2. Create a sleep hygiene routine
  3. Go to bed at the same time every night
  4. Try not to take naps after 4:00 pm
  5. Exercise or meditate 3 or 4 days a week
  6. Schedule time for thinking about your problems
  7. Do not watch TV or use mobile while you are lying in bed trying to sleep
  8. Read a book or listen to relaxing music before sleeping
  9.  Try to minimize noise and use dim light for sleeping. Minimize distractions
  10. Watch your eating habits
  11. Consult a professional

Q#14: What are the services available in Pakistan for mental health? 

There are a wide range of mental health services available in Pakistan.
  • You can always go to any hospital and ask for a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist
  • Online directories are also helpful – Check out Pakistan Psychologists Association 
  • Another way to find a mental health practitioner is by word of mouth

Q#15: Please shed some light on self-help. Ways in which we can help ourselves if we’re unable to visit a psychologist for some reason.

You may try the following at home:

– Mental exercises – Try these

– Physical exercises: Yoga, running, hiking, walking, swimming, gym training, cycling & dancing

– Online mental health websites. Check out the following:

– Books:

Facebook Live

On Friday morning at 10:30 am, I will be conducting an interview with Marium in Urdu on my Facebook Live. If you haven’t liked my facebook page yet, like it now. I don’t want you to miss the session. We will be discussing this article and taking live questions from you all. Please leave your questions/feedback in comments below so we can include them too.

Contact

There’s absolutely nothing wrong in meeting a psychologist if you’re feeling depressed.

I am sharing Mariums details below so you can contact her if you ever feel like talking to a mental health professional.

Here is her Instagram account

 

Sessions can be taken on call, Skype, Whatsapp and in-person.

Acknowledgments

Thank you Minahil Usama for letting me be a part of this great initiative. I am honored!

Thank you Marium Bajwa for being a part of this post and for answering all my questions with so much wisdom and detail. I really appreciate it. I hope to work with you in future too.

The last word

The purpose of this entire campaign is to make it easy to reach out for help and break the stigma of visiting a psychologist. Every time I have gone through an extremely upsetting time in my life, my mama has dragged me to see a specialist. It has always helped me feel better.

It is honestly nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I think its something to be proud of. Life can be extremely hard on us sometimes, and if we’re brave enough to get a hold of ourselves and visit an expert to help us get back on track, I think its something remarkable!

Life is stressful for all of us. If you are really upset about something. Please don’t keep it inside. Sometimes we all need to vent and need a support system. Remember, you’re not the only one! Reach out for help and feel better! 

Would love your comments. Hope you have a lovely day!

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Nadiya Najib

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