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Dhaka Tribune

The happiness equation

A one-stop solution, Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic (PHWC) tackles issues relating to mental health with lifestyle modification

Update : 01 Nov 2018, 03:55 PM

The stigma of not acknowledging mental infirmity at all and hiding the reality, in regard of Bangladesh’s context, is essentially what is keeping people from taking remedial assistance. Once they have gone past the stigma and opted to seek support (be it from a psychiatrist or counselor), it prompts them to share their struggles. On the other hand, there is a scarcity of public and private organizations that approach mental health issues from the perspective of altering one’s lifestyle in our country. Ashique Selim, consultant psychiatrist and managing director, says, “There is a prevailing tendency of dealing mental health as illness.” However, PHWC’s focus is to endow with levels of care that evolve with psychiatric assessment, psychological counseling and therapy to lifestyle modification via group wellness activities, he mentioned.

The biggest challenge for Bangladesh is the lack of trained human resources. According to national survey in Bangladesh supported by WHO, 16.01percent of the adult population and according to another WHO-sponsored regional survey, 18.4percent of children in the country are suffering from mental illness. “We don’t have enough academic and training institutes in Bangladesh to arm this sector with professionals who can look after them. Founded in 2011, the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology (DECP), has been producing around 25 graduates per year. We are dealing a huge population with a very small number of professionals. It is similar with mental health since only a handful of people get their MD, diploma or FCPS every year. “The biggest challenge, I believe, is finding professionals who can do the work,” mentioned Ashique Selim.  

Commemorating this year's World Mental Health Day, Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic (PHWC), organized multiple sessions that discussed relevant issues. It also offered services for psychological health and wellness needs – and even conducted a program last week to raise awareness on mental health. Attendees of the program were privy to PHWC treating methods and activities which have been designed for those who need it the most. 

Addressing the needs of adolescents

Most parents nowadays express concern for the well-being of their children. Due to a huge communication gap which is often triggered by the generation gap between them, parents struggle with issues like privacy and screentime, and given the security situation, concerned that their offspring are making friends and engaging in activity that they would not approve of. All these misconceptions develop because parents are not spending enough time with their kids. It is not a mental health issue; in fact, it is a matter of distance.

“When it comes to talking to your children about such issues, there’s no particular method of doing so, you won’t really know until you get there. The best advice would be to go with your gut feeling,” said Nissin Jan Sajid, Lead Psychological Counselor and Additional Managing Director.

Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed, associate professor, Child Adolescent and Family Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital (NIMH), thinks it is crucial to dig out the roots of the problem and ascertain the consequences, and finally, map out what needs to be done in order to minimize the threat. Behavior that contributes to unintentional injuries and violence, drug usage, alternate sleeping pattern, sexual behavior, suicidal tendency and so forth are described as the most perilous attitudes among adolescents. 

“However, we mostly find cases that concern people with neuro-developmental disorders, especially autism. The usual adolescence issues including anxiety, disorder, depression do not prevail in our institutional set-up,” he added.     

Finding peace

A unique session named “Art for the soul”- being conducted by Madiha Athar Khan for over two years, started off with a bunch of blank canvases and ended with different types of artwork created by guests at the event. 

Using the initiative as a platform, the young artist wishes to introduce people with their creative-self. She believes that art can be used to experience a better and healthy life by releasing stress and toxic baggage from busy and hectic daily lives, and simply relax.

Fluid art, also known as liquid art is a practice that does not require academic or professional training. Anybody can do fluid art; it has no particular pattern. As you start pouring acrylic colors on the canvas, each color starts driving itself through random directions. When one color collides with another color, it ends up creating a new form of design and texture. She said, “I find it to be stress-relieving, relaxing and therapeutic.”

Madiha aims to reach people who don’t do this on a regular basis through her efforts. “More often than not what happens is that, during their childhood, people create paintings but once they grow up, they tend to move away from the practice,” she mentioned. 

Battling through the hectic city life, we tend to end up having more on our plates than we can chew. This can lead to depression, stress, and anxiety which usually demotivates us. That's not the worst - when people go through such an ordeal, we corner ourselves and don’t let anything out. 

Through art, we can express ourselves and let everything out on the canvas. All the negativity can flow out with the colors and in most cases, people end up feeling relaxed, relieved of their stress, and leave the session in a state of cheerfulness and calmness. “It is to show them that everyone has a creative side.” she mentioned. The benefits they derive from practicing this art form is basically the creativity that she wants people to rediscover in themselves. 

Ampersand Spoken Word

The event also featured a Spoken Word session by the performance group Ampersand. Using distinctive style and rhythms in words on a piece of paper is something some readers like a lot. Poetry holds a sweet spot in most of our hearts but when we read literary works, it becomes hard for us to get a grasp of the exact feeling, the emotion that the writer tries to express. Spoken word, on the other hand, is a way to feel more connected to poetry. The moment when the writer becomes a presenter and starts narrating his/her words, it becomes more interesting. Using hand and body movements, emotions, facial expressions, high/low pitch phonaesthetics, or the aesthetics of sound makes it a lot easier for the audience to relate to. 

Some spoken word pieces can also be used as slam poetry. It is not just a hobby or expression of talent - it is more of a trending style of poetry and is being used in a lot of countries to raise awareness about social issues and convey important or controversial messages to society. It focuses on common issues where people are being deprived of their rights, i.e. - inequality, rape culture, bullying, LGBTQ, gender inequality and so on. 

“The session was extremely therapeutic. It helped us to understand the exact difference between written poetry and spoken word along with directions on how we can release our emotions and frustration by articulating our thoughts in words. In addition, the session somewhat forced us to bring out our emotions right on the spot when we were asked to write a poem and recite it out loud in front of the other attendees. Furthermore, listening to and watching unknown people showcasing their pieces which reflected some part of their lives and in turn, themselves was extremely inspiring” said Roshni Alam, one of the guests attending the event.

PHWC in action

In the last three months, collaborating with three different schools, PHWC has arranged events covering activities and issues ranging from yoga, mindful arts, stress management, anti bullying campaigns and breaking the silence surrounding suicides. “We are organizing such events only through invitations at this point because of our limited capacity in terms of resources and trained professionals. Which is why we cannot go about promoting the importance of mental health issues on a scale we would like to – at least until build our capacity,” reiterated Ashique. 

At present, PHWC is not conducting any research but collecting data for their work, however it is in conversation with different organizations to conduct relevant research in the future. Talking about research on a wide range of mental health issues, Ashique Selim says, “a lot of research is being carried out by different national organizations, NGOs, educational institutions but there is a lot more to be done. One major difference between the practice in Bangladesh and abroad is that, in other countries, when someone is researching, their focus revolves around many different fields; teachers are involved in the academic sphere while medical practitioners engage in diagnosing patients. But in Bangladesh, it is always a doctor who has to engage in every sphere.”

Aiming to be the best institution in terms of dealing with mental health treatment in Bangladesh, PHWC aspires to provide service that everybody will want to attain. While sharing about future expectations of PHWC, Ashique Selim suggests, “to reach that level, one needs to maintain a high quality of treatment and care as well as provide relevant training and supervision. Our goal is to expand across the city initially, and if we can train enough people, we want to expand across the country so that we can provide counseling to patients and their families to abolish the stigma.”       

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