Dec. 12, 2022

Destigmatizing Mental Health In India And Beyond With Athul Raj

Destigmatizing Mental Health In India And Beyond With Athul Raj
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Destigmatizing Mental Health In India And Beyond With Athul Raj

Athul Raj, a lover of art and dance, practices as a counseling psychologist in India and has worked in multiple settings such as Jail, NGOs, and organizations. 

His expertise is in working with depression, anxiety, trauma, mood disorders, relationship issues, anger management, stress management, LGBTQIA+ issues, bullying, sexual issues, self-esteem, stress management, anger management, career counseling, and interpersonal relationships. 

His belief in active listening, providing a safe space, and a strong sense of empathy make healing a journey to look forward to. For him, therapy is a way to unpack bottled-up emotions and thoughts and develop skills to overcome obstacles in the future.

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Disclaimer:The Mental Health Today Show is for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as therapy. If you are seeking therapy, please contact a licensed therapist for help.


Destigmatizing Mental Health In India And Beyond With Athul Raj

[00:00:00] John Cordray: Have you ever thought about how mental health is stigmatized in the us? That's pretty common. We talk about that quite a bit. There's a stigmatism on mental health in the us, but have you ever thought about how stigmatized mental health is around the world? And it really is, and we're going to talk specifically how it is in.

[00:00:26] John Cordray: And so this episode, we're gonna be talking about destigmatizing mental health in India and beyond with a tool ride coming right up. Oh, 

[00:00:36] John Cordray: Welcome to The Mental Health Today Show. My name is John Cordray and I am a licensed therapist and the host of this show, and I am so happy that you are here today to listen.

[00:00:47] John Cordray: This is gonna be really interesting, especially if, if you are from the US I want you to really listen to this because mental health is an issue. It's a, it's a problem all over the world, not just in the us [00:01:00] And along with that comes stigmatism and just like it is here in the us. It's even more so I think in other countries.

[00:01:09] John Cordray: And so my special guess is from India and he's a psychologist and to Raj is a lover of art and dance and he practices as a counseling psychologist in India and has worked in multiple settings like jail and NGOs and organizations. And his expertise is in working with depression, anxiety, trauma, mood disorders, relationship issues, anger management, stress management, the L G B T Q I A plus issues, bullying, sexual issues, self-esteem, stress management, anger management, career counseling, and interpersonal relationships.

[00:01:48] John Cordray: I don't know if we've let anything out there. , his belief in active listening, providing a safe space. And a strong sense of empathy makes healing a journey to look [00:02:00] forward to. And for him, therapy is a way to unpack bottled up emotions and thoughts, and develop skills to overcome obstacles in the future.

[00:02:10] John Cordray: A tool. Welcome to the show. 

[00:02:13] Athul Raj: Thank you for having me, John. It's my pleasure to be 

[00:02:16] John Cordray: well, I'm really looking forward to this because a lot of my guests are from the us. They're based in the. And I don't, I'm trying to think if I've ever had a guess from India. So I'm really, really excited about this and learning in particular about how mental health is viewed or thought of in India.

[00:02:38] John Cordray: But before we get to that, I'm really curious. I know you're a counseling psychologist. Tell me a little bit about how you became a psychologist and why did you wanna become. Yeah. 

[00:02:50] Athul Raj: And thank you for giving me that opportunity to talk about Sean. So the journey to psychology began during my 11th and 12. So [00:03:00] I started learning about psychology also because back then I was more curious about, you know, understanding how people behave.

[00:03:07] Athul Raj: Why do they behave in a certain way, what they think, and more of a little less knowledge about how psychology works. But as I started learning about it and as I started doing it during my undergrad, I got more curious and I started understanding that it's not just about understanding what's going on in the minds of people, but also really helping them and helping them deal with the mental health issues that we are seeing, which is quite increasing id.

[00:03:34] Athul Raj: And then I went on to do my masters, and specifically the masters happened during the covid, the dynamic situation. And that really. Gave everyone a good insight of how important it's to look at the concept of mental health. And it also because my specialization was into counseling psychology, so it already helped me to come across a lot of individuals with their own [00:04:00] challenges and problems that they were going through during the situation, but particularly even.

[00:04:06] Athul Raj: The pandemic hit, they had their own earlier issues, so people were coming into therapy and that gave me an opportunity to engage with more individuals there. And from there I started working in different platforms, like how you mentioned jails, NGOs, and different mental health online organizations. And I'm still continuing to do that.

[00:04:28] Athul Raj: And it's been a journey. It's been a great journey so far, and I'm looking forward for more bigger journey. 

[00:04:36] John Cordray: It is a journey, and you're exactly right. You know, I can say that with my life and I became a licensed therapist in the US in 2007, and it's definitely a journey with the people that we meet and the struggles that they come to us with.

[00:04:55] John Cordray: I don't know about you at all, but I consider it a real honor [00:05:00] when somebody comes to me and just really bears their soul. With me. And it's humbling, isn't it? Yeah, absolutely. And so I'm really interested to learn a little bit about the Indian culture in particular around mental health. So can you tell me a little bit of how, how is mental health viewed in India?

[00:05:26] Athul Raj: Right? If we talk about the concept of mental health, obvious. Globally. If you look at, there are many countries where it's still stigmatized, but if I specifically talk about India, there are 28 states here, right? And there are like so many people who still don't approach the psychologist or psychiatrist for that matter because they think that, you know, if you approach one, you are considered to be a mental patient or you know that you are mad or that you don't belong to the.

[00:05:57] Athul Raj: So that left out feeling is always there [00:06:00] for people and they feel that they're different from other people and hence they don't approach psychologists or psychiatrist or counselors for that matter. But having said that, it's also sad to see that how the ones who are going through the near and dear ones don't know how to help them and to really look after them.

[00:06:17] Athul Raj: Cause it's such a big issue that we haven't taught how to deal. Anyone who's going through a mental health issue there, you know, it's like saying that if you have a physical illness, you can always visit a doctor cause no one will hesitate to do that. But if someone is emotional or someone is crying out loud or someone is going through a breakdown, as as that people sometimes just give a very unsolicited advices.

[00:06:40] Athul Raj: And that's what happens in India most. That people Thanksgiving advices or 1, 2, 3 motivational lines out there would really help someone to cope with their own problems there. And that's how these little things, because it's happening, you know, it's passing from generation to generation and I feel that.

[00:06:59] Athul Raj: That [00:07:00] sort of stigma is there and it exists, but slowly, obviously if you look at the urban areas, it's still much better as compared to the rural areas in India. But yes, there's a long way to go in terms of really helping people to really psycho educate them about, you know, what therapy or mental health for that matter, is about making them more.

[00:07:24] John Cordray: Well, I really love that. And you're exactly right. When you brought up the, the physical part versus the mental part, and it's like that here in the US too, that, you know, we, when we get hurt physically, we break a bone or we don't feel well, we'll go to the doctor without even thinking about it, you know, without hesitation.

[00:07:45] John Cordray: Or if we have a toothache, we're gonna go to the dentist without. But many times when it's an emotional struggle, whether it's grief or anxiety or depression, many [00:08:00] people are hesitant because, not necessarily cuz they don't wanna get the help, but what other people will think if they get the help. And it sounds like it's, it's like that a lot in India as well.

[00:08:12] John Cordray: What would you say to somebody who's listening to this and maybe they are from India and they are struggl. Emotional with some kind of an emotional struggle, what would you say to them and what would be something that like a, like a, a strategy or something that they could do at home if they're struggling, let's say they're struggling with anxiety, 

[00:08:36] Athul Raj: I would say because.

[00:08:37] Athul Raj: If someone from India is listening right now, I would particularly say that, you know, the self care is something that we can include in our daily life. Taking care of your emotional health, listing down few things that you can do for yourself to deal with your emotions. So simply like journaling for yourself would really help you there.

[00:08:57] Athul Raj: If we talk about emotional health, we [00:09:00] also want to take care of our physical. Because as mental health therapists, we don't, you know, deny the part that physical health is equally important. So seeing to it, if you have a proper diet, sleep, nutrition, just keeping a track of it. If you feel anywhere, you know, something is missing out for you, check with yourself.

[00:09:17] Athul Raj: You know, check with yourself in terms of your daily routine there. Also doing some sort of breathing exercises for yourself. You know, taking long, deep breaths really helps. So, so I feel taking to consideration the emotional health and the physical health, if you are not able to approach a therapist for someone, You can do the self care part for yourself and also probably looking out for any sort of, you know, The environment, you know, the surroundings that you belong to, what kinda surrounding you have.

[00:09:48] Athul Raj: Is there anything in the environment that really is not fitting well for you there something that you wish to change in your surrounding there, you know, so I feel that these are the parts that would really help want to be [00:10:00] more aware about themselves and also. Like I said, journaling that would really help you to let out all the emotions that you're feeling there, but also being aware of your thoughts about having a clarity there for your own self, which eventually you'll understand, you know, what is something that's also make you feel anxious there.

[00:10:19] Athul Raj: So I feel that's a self-help thing for yourself to do there. Yeah. 

[00:10:23] John Cordray: Well, I think those are really good tips for someone that may feel like they can't go to see someone like yourself in India. Maybe they live at home and, and their parents are totally against getting mental health therapy and treatment.

[00:10:38] John Cordray: So it's, it is important to learn. What can you do at home if you feel like you can't go see a psychologist? And you had mentioned, speaking of family, you had mentioned earlier that in India especially that the stigma of mental health is generations and it's passed down and to to generation. To generation.[00:11:00] 

[00:11:00] John Cordray: Why do you think that is and where do you think the, the concept that getting help for mental health is, is weak? Where do you think that came? 

[00:11:10] Athul Raj: Yeah, I feel that the mental health cases were there. It, it always existed there. It's just that we never looked upon or identified or gave importance to it.

[00:11:22] Athul Raj: And I feel people just ignore when it comes to the emotions and you not only getting in depth of understanding what a person is thinking. Because for people really thinking about, you know, healing someone or giving them that emotional support, it's a toll on them for themselves. They are probably dealing with their own issues there and everyone is going through their own problems out there.

[00:11:45] Athul Raj: And I feel because it's generation to generation, also because the kind education and access to awareness that people have now, thanks to social media, definitely people are able to look at different content out there. But initially, earlier in earlier [00:12:00] days, we were not able to access those information or any.

[00:12:05] Athul Raj: Internet source or any, any social media out there, so which we could really understand. It was just meeting the same kind of people and talking about the same kind of things, but everyone not knowing, you know, what kinda help might be required for what purpose? And talking specifically about mental health issues, I feel that also because like I said, it always existed, it becomes very important to also understand that people never knew the terms as well.

[00:12:33] Athul Raj: It was more popular in the Western culture as compared to Indian culture. But having said that, people were not aware of, you know, depression, anxiety back then. It, it just seemed like, you know, someone is crying for no reason out there. I feel the crying part is something that people always ignore. Or if some, if someone sees someone crying, then they just stop them or let them stay.

[00:12:56] Athul Raj: You know? You don't cry right now cause it's not good. How can you cry? [00:13:00] Are you a child to cry? Especially someone. An adult out there who's crying and that's a problem where it begins. And I feel that's something that continues still. Now, if we see someone crying, we just tell them, don't cry. It's, it's not good.

[00:13:15] Athul Raj: Why are you crying? But rather we don't try to understand them. So I feel that understanding part and the of empathy in terms of giving importance to mental health always was lacking in terms of the Indian. Well, that's really 

[00:13:31] John Cordray: interesting. Do, do you think self, kind of self-determination and resisting feeling bad and, and just pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is that's what we say here in, in the US when we just gotta do it, hunger down and do it ourselves.

[00:13:47] John Cordray: Do. Do you think that is kind of the mindset as well in. 

[00:13:53] Athul Raj: Yes, it is. It is. And I feel that's also the sad part because somewhere back in mind, we know [00:14:00] that somewhere we are kinda aware now, but still we don't really, you know, if I connect to the mental health, we don't really give importance in terms of the people who are really curious and interested in this feedback.

[00:14:12] Athul Raj: Apart from that, the ones were not, they feel, you know, this is not as important as other 

[00:14:18] John Cordray: things that. That makes, that makes a lot of sense. And it's, it's kind of you know, if you think about it, the, the concept of having a mental health struggle is weak. That concept is really an international problem.

[00:14:35] John Cordray: And I don't know if you are, if India is facing this, but in the US we are facing a really, a national shortage of mental health professionals. And for a number of reasons. I was curious, are there a lot of mental health professionals providing counseling in India? 

[00:14:59] Athul Raj: Right. [00:15:00] And thank you for bringing this question here, John.

[00:15:03] Athul Raj: Why I said that is because there are therapists here, but the thing with India's education system is, which primarily kind of becomes like a barrier for a lot. People who are in this field who wish to become therapists, psychologists, because someone who does a masters is considers as a counselor but doesn't get a license here as compared.

[00:15:27] Athul Raj: If you look at or other countries, you, if you. Or you give a license test, but in India you have to do a separate fill, which is masters in philosophy, which is after masters which is an additional two years, and that is when you get your license and that is when you're considered as a clinical psychologist in India.

[00:15:47] Athul Raj: Having said that, a lot of people, because again, the stigma comes here, that people don't know that you know, you need a proper degree to become a psychologist. And people eventually end up doing diploma certificate [00:16:00] courses, just one or two months courses out there and consider themselves as being a therapist or a psychologist or on that matter, even a psychiatrist.

[00:16:08] Athul Raj: That might seem funny, but it's also very disheartening because we are dealing with human beings out there and people feel that it's just talking with clients or for that individuals, but it's not just talking. There's a lot of things that goes into therapy and that sort of. It's something that is a misunderstanding, a lack of understanding.

[00:16:29] Athul Raj: They're out in India specifically. So because like I said, the license is not there after Masters. So people eventually, you know, they just end up taking up a course and they become a psychologist, consider them as psychologist. And there are many psychologists out there, but I would say there are shortage of good psychologists.

[00:16:50] Athul Raj: I'll put it. 

[00:16:53] John Cordray: Well that's a good distinction and something that it's important, and I say this [00:17:00] to people here in the US as well. You, you wanna do your research. Let's say you are in India and you do want to go see a psychologist, do your research and make sure that. A psychologist is a counseling psychologist that has gone through all the steps.

[00:17:19] John Cordray: That sounds like a lot that you have to go through and then, and then to be able to be licensed to, to practice counseling. So do your research. Try to find someone that's not just calling themself a psychologist, but can show that they have the credentials. And that is so important no matter where you're at, whether you're in the US or India, or a different country, you wanna do your.

[00:17:42] John Cordray: So I'm interested and well, we're gonna stay on the this, this topic of mental health professionals, and you were mentioning about how mental health is stigmatized in India. What about the professionals themselves? Is there a stigma on [00:18:00] counseling psychologists in India? 

[00:18:03] Athul Raj: Well, if I talk about particularly counseling psychologist, Again, so someone who has done psychology itself, if I put a psychologist, people in their effort to them as doctors, again, not having a clear distinction of who a psychiatrist is, who a counselors, who's a psychologist, who's a clinical psychologist there.

[00:18:24] Athul Raj: Having said that, a counseling psychologist goes through some stigma in, in terms of within this field of mental. But also in terms of with other people who are not linked to this field in terms of basic understanding of, you know, what kinda issues a counseling psychologists deal with. Because again, what is seen is that a counseling psychologists can only work at schools is what people think.

[00:18:50] Athul Raj: They don't see that counseling psychologists can also work in a hospital setting or maybe in an ngo, but what they generally feel is that they can only work in. [00:19:00] And the other stigma is simply what I was saying about the stigma within the mental health field is that clinical psychologists and psychiatrist often feel that constant psychologists doesn't have a lot of expertise in dealing with a lot of issues.

[00:19:14] Athul Raj: So when I say a lot of issues, I particularly mean with, you know, the psychotic issues particularly. Yes. Counseling psychologists is more given training for, you know, neurotic cases, depression, anxiety, other issue. But having said that, they start differentiating that, you know, counseling psychologists can't deal with other such clients who are having more clinical oriented cases out there.

[00:19:39] John Cordray: Well, I'm, I'm glad you brought the distinctions up because it sounds like it can be confusing. And it's kind of like that here in the US as well, cuz we have counselors, we have social workers, we have psychiatrists, we have psychologists. And how do you know which one that you need? And, and really it comes [00:20:00] down to in the US are they fully licensed to the practice independently?

[00:20:04] John Cordray: And it sounds like it's a little bit more confusing in. With that for, for people. So it makes kind of sense, doesn't it? That part of the, the reluctance of people in India who are wanting maybe need the help, but maybe they don't get the help because they, they're confused, they don't know, well which one is the qualified one and which one isn't.

[00:20:28] John Cordray: And so I'm sure that is plays a part of it as well. So I'm really also curious about what do you think would. Destigmatize. The mental health, just mental health in general in India. What do you think would help 

[00:20:44] Athul Raj: with that? I think the very first step is starting with school. You know how we don't have special subjects related to mental health.

[00:20:55] Athul Raj: So we started with psychology 11th and 12, which is later in [00:21:00] life. But I would say as, as when we are in first standard, or maybe for that matter, even when we are in kindergarten, We just have a check with our mental health there and having certain topics related to mental health, just so that people really understand, you know, that mental health do exist and you know, do have certain problems related to mental doesn't to you as being, you know, something like a different person out there or someone who's is totally okay to take care of your mental health.

[00:21:29] Athul Raj: And I feel that starts off in in school. Having said that, for the ones who have grown ups a lot, Free workshops in India. A lot of awareness, which is obviously happening there. A lot of mental health advocates are out there who are bringing that awareness up. But I feel just one person within a family, if they can take that initiative to really have a discussion about mental health.

[00:21:56] Athul Raj: Just as simple as we have other discussions about other things in [00:22:00] family. I feel that will bring about the change rather than waiting for someone to really have a mental health issue at home. And then really the understanding, oh, this exists there. So I feel its from school for children, but for others it start with a lot of awareness, a lot of informations, articles, workshops, seminars, someone within family talking about it.

[00:22:22] Athul Raj: I feel that's how it will help people 

[00:22:25] John Cordray: out there. Well, I really like how you brought up the importance of starting young and starting early about mental health because I do think that is a huge part of it and, and also to be willing to be okay with struggling, and that's the hard part. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression or stress or grief, it's hard to admit that to someone else.

[00:22:50] John Cordray: But you're exactly right, it starts with communication. It starts with being willing to talk about it and to not feel shame. And [00:23:00] because I think that's the root of the stigmatizing of mental health is that there's a lot of shame that comes from it as if the person who's struggling with mental health is weak in some way, or not really human in some way.

[00:23:14] John Cordray: And you and I know that it's the opposite, right? When someone is struggling means they are. Because we all do, we all struggle, we all have emotions and sometimes those emotions get the best of us and that's when we need the help. So thank you for that. I, I appreciate you bringing that out cuz that is important.

[00:23:31] John Cordray: And what you just mentioned that can go a long way, even in America, is to communicate, start early, work with children and, and to be able to say it's okay to be sad. It's okay to be depressed, it's okay to be anxious, but here's what you could do. When you are feeling that way. So we have emotions and that's what makes us human, but sometimes we need to learn how to manage those emotions so the [00:24:00] emotions don't manage us.

[00:24:01] John Cordray: And I love that. I love education. I love the fact that you brought up that we need to communicate more and to be open more with our struggle and not feel the shame. That's perfect. Well, Atul, I'm really interested you, you brought this up early on in the. When you were giving some tips and you, you mentioned self care and one of the things that I like to ask all of my guests is about self care, cuz that's something I talk a lot about and how important it is for us as people to work on our self care.

[00:24:35] John Cordray: And sometimes even, especially those of us who are professional counselors in the field. We need to practice what we preach, . Well, I'm really interested. What are some things that you do that support your self care? 

[00:24:52] Athul Raj: All right, so because I'm in this field, I specifically make sure that before I go to bed, I [00:25:00] reflect upon myself.

[00:25:01] Athul Raj: It's like I see, you know, is there something that's really bothering me how my day went, and maybe it takes some few minutes out there to be grateful about few. For myself. Sometimes I do it in the morning as well. But having said that, I'll make sure that I eat short breaks because that's important and that's something that I also like to tell people that, you know, you might be doing a lot of work, there might a lot of things, but make sure that you take those little breaks because that's important for you to get some rest and to, you know, have some self soothing thing.

[00:25:35] Athul Raj: I also indulge in some yoga, so meditation or yoga or some mindfulness. Breathing out there once in a day, even if it's for five minutes, that a lot of reliefs from the stress, especially after meeting a lot of individuals understanding. Very important to bring back yourself to that grounding technique, and that's [00:26:00] something that I do in the self.

[00:26:03] John Cordray: Well that's excellent. And I think it is important for us professionals to practice what we preach cuz we, we are really good at telling people they need to work on their self care. Sometimes we're not as good as practicing that ourselves, . So I'm glad that you brought that up. So our time is coming to an end here, but I would love to hear kind of your, your final thoughts on this and kinda wrap everything.

[00:26:29] John Cordray: Is there something that you would like to, to share with my audience before we end our episode today? 

[00:26:37] Athul Raj: Oh, yes. I would actually like to say, first of all, thanks John once again for inviting me to this show. For the audience, I would like to say that, you know, it can seem very hard to ask or seek for help, but take your own time.

[00:26:53] Athul Raj: Don't be too hard on yourself because you know, Suits well for you and what's best for [00:27:00] you there. So believe in yourself that take your own time and iFLY required. Don't hesitate to seek out help cause that's something that was some a topic for today. But having that, if you feel that's something that's bothering you, don't hesitate to reach out 

[00:27:17] John Cordray: to a professional.

[00:27:19] John Cordray: I love. A tool. Thank you so much for being willing to come on. And by the way, I don't know if people probably don't realize how early it is for you right now, but it's very, very early and you chose to get up super early to, to be able to come on the show and, and I really appreciate that. I appreciate what you do.

[00:27:38] John Cordray: I, I love the profession, obviously, and just keep doing what you're doing whenever you get discouraged because mental health is so stigmatized in. Just remember to keep doing it and why you became a, a counseling psychologist in the first place. And so thank you so much for coming on. I appreciate you and what you do [00:28:00] and the encouragement that you just provided.

[00:28:03] John Cordray: Just amazing to be able to hear from other professionals in this field around the world. And I want to really thank all of you for listening as well. I appreciate you so much. Some of you are fairly, To the show. Some of you have been around for a while and I just really enjoy the fact that a lot of you reach out to me and keep doing that.

[00:28:25] John Cordray: Keep reaching out to me. I want you to go to the website, mental health today, And right there, you can listen to all of our, our episodes. You can read the blogs, you can reach out to us or to me in, in the, in the contact field. I wanna hear from you. There are things that you want me to talk about, different topics, let me know.

[00:28:47] John Cordray: And because this is an interactive show, it's not just my show, it's our show. And so I want you just to go there, take a look and reach out if you need to. And I, I would appreciate. [00:29:00] So I really appreciate all of you. I want you to continue to work on your mental health and just remember that the Mental Health Today Show has been championing your mental health since 2015.

[00:29:14] John Cordray: Take care.

Athul RajProfile Photo

Athul Raj

Counselling Psychologist

Athul Raj, a lover of art and dance, practices as a counseling psychologist in India and has worked in multiple settings such as Jail, NGOs, and organizations. His expertise is in working with depression, anxiety, trauma, mood disorders, relationship issues, anger management, stress management, LGBTQIA+ issues, bullying, sexual issues, self-esteem, stress management, anger management, career counseling, and interpersonal relationships. His belief in active listening, providing a safe space, and a strong sense of empathy make healing a journey to look forward to. For him, therapy is a way to unpack bottled-up emotions and thoughts and develop skills to overcome obstacles in the future.