Interview with Sohini Roy Chowdhury — Part 1
It is a common thought among the educated society that women are more prone to depression. But psychologist Sohini Roy Chowdhury busts this myth in a recent interview with Our Clear Minds. We will cover this point and many other depression-related matters in our two-part report of the said interview.
We were fortunate to have an interview with Ms. Sohini Roy Chowdhury, who is a trained psychologist in Kolkata, having done her education on the subject from nothing short of the famous Jadavpur University. She has been practicing independently for the last three years till date, in her own clinic named “Bhalo Theko” in Bijoygarh (Golf Green) area in Kolkata.
Through both online and offline consultations, Sohini finds it truly rewarding to help distressed people get back on track with their life and find inner peace and purpose. She helps people to rise up and above all judgmentalism, fears, and misconceptions, and be free of their stress and false beliefs. To be sure and spread awareness, she has started a Facebook page called “Rise Up, Be Free” about these matters.
“The conditioning of our minds is so deep that it takes us away from our true selves and makes us constantly undermine and underestimate ourselves,” Sohini explains, “Hence, I created this space to talk about those misconceptions and myths, and the alternative way of looking at life. I encourage people to open their minds and see that what we believe in, may not be the only way to look at things, and there could be a healthier and a more meaningful way to look at it.”
How can you help a person who is experiencing mental health issues?
Sohini tackles this question very diplomatically. According to her, being non-judgemental is a crucial trait in any mental health therapist. “I know that everybody talks about being non-judgemental. These terms have become very clichéd in today’s time and generation,” Sohini says, “but that’s the whole training about being a therapist and being in that space.”
To be the therapist who can successfully help his or her patients, Sohini prescribes a total detachment from own beliefs and concepts. The frame of reference should always be the patient’s own mind. The therapist must always be capable of looking at the scenario from the patient’s point of view, not from the therapist’s point of view.
“Somebody is there with me in this space… (who) ‘sees’ me and understands me.”
“…You try to feel the pain from the person’s point of view and you are there with the person in his pain,” Sohini instructs beginners in this field, and anyone who wants to help people in mental distress. “That is what relieves the person of his pain and suffering,” and the patient will no longer feel alone in their agony — “Somebody is there with me in this space… (who) ‘sees’ me and understands me.” In fact, many of the mental distress and anguishes we feel today are relieved just by talking to an empathetic person.
Respect and Respond
And the second part of a therapist’s job comes in the form of respect towards the client. This should be ingrained in the therapist because if you have created a negative thought about the patient, it will show. “(When you) even believe, even think that the client is wrong or you dismiss him or his feelings and experiences, it comes out in your body language, in the tone of your voice, the way you look at your client, in the way you speak to him or in any other aspect of your being,” Sohini warns.
This has direct consequences. “You have broken the deal. Then the client loses trust and immediately thinks that my therapist is not getting me. He is not in that space of empathy with me.” Therefore the patient won’t be open to the therapist and therefore, all that work will be lost. So, “you absolutely believe in your client and have extreme respect and a positive regard for your client.”
“As a therapist, you believe that whatever your client has chosen to think/behave was the best he/she could have done at that very moment, given the resources and cognition he/she had and secondly you believe that your client is capable of a positive shift in his/her thoughts and behaviour.” Sohini reminds us.
Is it true that women suffer from depression more than men?
Contrary to popular belief, men can be just as prone to depression as women, Ms. RoyChowdhury says. Breaking the myth of women being more affected by depression in India, she claims that we see women with depression more because they are more willing to talk about their emotional status. Men, in comparison, would rather prefer to close themselves up like a clam.
According to Sohini, men try to vent their depression and frustration through many habits and external objects. Men fall victim to “…Feeling of anger, irritability, becoming aggressive, losing control, feeling of anxiousness, restlessness, or always feeling on the edge, problems with sexual desire, feeling sad or empty and numb all the time, not being able to remember things, feeling always tired and fatigued, loss of energy,” as Sohini enumerates.
Men React Differently to Depression
But what does the average man do in these circumstances? Instead of talking about it like a woman would, he dismisses it as “just feeling down a bit” and goes to quick stress relief solutions like substance abuse, entertainment, or sex.
“They tend to depend a lot on substances like alcohol, drugs, hours of online gaming or watching pornography, and becoming sex addicts so, all these things also are indicated that your mental health is not up to the mark and something is wrong with you,” Sohini warns.
Men also withdraw themselves from their loved ones when they get depressed or stressed, and choose to immerse themselves in work instead. “You may become so involved with your work and you may go to a point of burnout and exhaust yourself so much that you are not able to do anything else, not being able to concentrate on your health or on your family or on social life and you become too much of a workaholic.” According to her, this is also a sign that a man is suffering inside.
Everyone is talking about depression these days. It seems that anybody who has heard the word seems to be having it. Is that really true?
“…It has become a common word and used very frequently,” Sohini RoyChowdhury states matter-of-factly, “No, everybody is not depressed.” There are plenty of people saying they are depressed, but also there are plenty of people saying they are fine. The question is to figure out how to recognize depression correctly.
“We all feel sad. Sometimes or the other, that is a normal human emotion. We all feel low and upset. Because these are all normal natural emotions.” Sohini says. “But… the feeling of depression is when you are feeling hopeless…. There is a constant feeling of not being able to enjoy the activities that you were able to enjoy previously. You feel aloof and withdrawn and it continues for a long time without an apparent reason along with other symptoms of depression. You just don’t feel like doing anything. “
…The feeling of depression is when you are feeling hopeless… constantly…
That is certainly a black mood, we thought. But it doesn’t end there just yet. According to Ms. RoyChowdhury, the symptoms of depression can include loss of energy, loss of sleep, feeling fatigued all day, loss of appetite, feeling irritable all the time, having very little self-esteem, having a lot of regrets, loss of focus, and more. Paradoxically enough, sleeping or eating a lot can also be signs of depression — a kind of coping mechanism.
Physical Symptoms of Depression
Furthermore, there can be psychosomatic symptoms of depression too. “And you have a lot of psychosomatic problems as well – Unexplained pains, gastric problems, migraines, headaches, etc and f they persist for a long time, maybe more than two-three weeks and they are not going away and you don’t know the real reason why they are occurring…” Sohini says. Then all of these can point to depression.
But worst of all is probably the suicidal tendencies that come part and parcel with major depression. “You may have thoughts about ending your life, question your existence, and question about a lot of things happening around you,” Sohini warns.
So, a word of warning to both those who say they have depression all the time, and those who say they are fine. Look out for these major symptoms of depression. If you truly have these symptoms, destabilizing your daily life, then you have depression and if you do, you should never waste time thinking you are okay, it is just a passing phase. If you waste time in depression, it may waste you.
What, according to you, is the first thing anyone should do to avoid getting caught up in depression?
“Be aware of (your) own inner self, your emotional state of being,” Sohini responds promptly. Everybody has downtimes, which is normal for a day or two. But if the black mood persists for a week or more, and is accompanied by other symptoms Sohini mentioned above, then you are in an episode of depression.
Ms. RoyChoudhury prescribes that we open our minds to family and good friends first, who can at least listen to our problems. But if there are no such people around to help you, you should at once go to therapy. “Therapy is something which is very very underestimated and undermined in our country even today, and people think that going for a therapy session is something that you really wait for, till your last breath…” Sohini sounds a bit impatient here. Really, one should not wait to go seek professional help until something serious happens to you.
“You can go to a therapist even if you are not feeling ok, just not feeling yourself for a few days and you can get a fresh perspective of life. Or something you know isn’t going ok. Whether it’s your marriage, or relationship, your work, your daily routine. So seek help — that is the first thing.” Sohini advises.
Taking Responsibility for Your Own Mind
Another point to protect ourselves from depression is to be responsible for our emotional wellbeing. We should learn to take charge of our own emotional health, which is, sadly, not yet a priority in India. (Indeed, this is a good reason why mental health in India is having so much difficulty.)
“…Take charge of your life,” Sohini insists. “Most of the time as a therapist I see that people very often think they are victims of circumstances and have no choice.” That isn’t right. A grown-up person should know that they are indeed capable of controlling their mental wellbeing — only if they choose to.
“Be aware of (your) own inner self, your emotional state of being,”
“As long as we keep thinking that we do not have a choice on our state of being, the choices that we have in our life, we will never be able to take charge and change the way things are.” Sohini shrugs. “So, we have to take responsibility for our own mental state of being. Sohini wants you to perform the check on yourself, “…if I choose to be happy or if I give priority to my mental health, I always can!! … “Giving priority to ourselves, Giving priority to mental health, Giving priority to self-care, self-love. That is a huge shift in our thoughts, that needs to happen.”
How many patients do you have to handle daily, if you don’t mind? Are any of them violent?
Our thoughts behind this question came from personal experiences we had in mental health clinics, seeing unstable patients. So we were curious about the experiences of other mental health professionals. Ms. Sohini Roy Chowdhury was kind enough to clear something up about this for us.
“…A psychologist handles mental distress…”
According to Ms. RoyChowdhury, there is a big difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist in India. According to her, “A psychologist’s handle is mental distress.” However, when a patient is prone to get violent, that crosses over to mental disorder, not distress. And that is where a psychiatrist comes in, armed with a plethora of medicines to treat the patient first before the psychologist can begin to do her therapy.
As such, Sohini continues, “I handle three to four patients daily. No, none of them are violent.” She adds, “Somebody who has a mental disorder will need to go to a psychiatrist. So he needs to visit a doctor or a psychiatrist and take medicines.”
We will, indeed, cover the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist later in our blog. And we will have to continue this interview in the next episode.
Meanwhile, if you have any issues that are troubling you, about your personal life, your relationships, your work, etc. that are disturbing your normal life a great deal — then you should absolutely consult Ms. Sohini RoyChowdhury who is a talented psychologist in Kolkata. You can find her in our resources section, or note the contact below:
You can also contact us directly using the contact form below or write to us at [email protected] to share what’s troubling you.
Till next time!