Dr. Prerna Kohli, a renowned clinical psychologist, and an advisor to National Commission for Protection of Civil Rights, in an exclusive chat with G20 spoke about the prevailing mental health issues in India. Excerpts:

Q. Would you share with us how your journey has been so far?

A. As a practicing psychologist with over 25 years of experience, I have had the opportunity of having counseled over 10,000 cases. My first and foremost goal is to remove the stigma attached to Mental Health. Diabetics, Heart patients, and even cancer patients openly discuss and share their journey, and their families attach no shame or stigma to these illnesses, even friends and family are supportive and understanding. On the other hand, if someone is suffering from depression, there is such a concerted attempt to hide it. The person is perceived to be weak, and people around them look down upon them. This to me is completely unacceptable, just as no one chooses to be infected by cancer, no one chooses to be depressed. Depression patients need and deserve the support, love and medical treatment that they so very much require.

Q. You’re doing very unique Omni-important work in Jails, in Gurgaon, Tihar & Aligargh prisons. Tell us something about it.

A. All human beings are equal, no one is good or bad, it is circumstances that push them into crime. Only minuscule percentages are actual psychopaths and sociopaths, those that suffer from Anti-Social Personality disorder are a minority, the bulk of criminals are youngsters who were either in bad company, didn’t have good role models, or pushed into a life of crime because of poverty.

I along with some colleagues also run an NGO in Aligarh to skill women inmates so that they can earn a livelihood once they are released from jail.

While counseling the inmates of Tihar (some who were in jail for serious heinous crimes such as rape, murder, etc.), I would see such untapped talent, some of them were amazing cooks, singers, performers, actors, and dancers, I always question, if we as a society failed these youngsters by not providing them the right opportunities. Once released from confinement, almost all return back to jail, as the outside world doesn’t provide them opportunities.

Q. What is your eminent expert take on mental health issues of present and in the year or two ahead?

A. The real pandemic that we as a society are facing is mental health. Every 3-4 minutes someone in India commits suicide. Every hour a student commits suicide in our country. It is estimated that one of four women and one of seven men in India is suffering from a mental health problem. Yet, we as the proverbial ostriches are focusing our money, our resources elsewhere. The government right from the top downwards needs to focus our collective energy on mental health.

Q. I ask you, look at the 4 women closest to you, your wife, mother, sister, daughter, out of the four of them, one of them is suffering from a mental health problem such as depression, is this enough of a wakeup call for you?

A. You conduct heart-based workshops & lectures in schools, universities, & corporates. What all does it entail?

In the 25 years of working as a psychologist, everyone single patient who has come to me for treatment, in his or her own way only expressed one thing. That is Dr. Kohli, how do I become happy. Sooner or later, every one of us realizes that a larger car, a bigger home, a foreign vacation, fancy clothes, expensive jewelry give us momentary joy, but not lasting happiness. Each of us will face challenges in life, such as death, financial losses, sickness, etc., we need to build resilience and emotional and mental strength to accept these setbacks and to continue on.