Educating the mind, keeping it sharp and well informed are considered the only way to move up in the world. So one can't help but wonder why the well-being of this mind is given such little importance here. It's not as though we don't look after ourselves. Whenever there's a new viral illness is town, we obsessively memorise the symptoms and rush to the doctors at the slightest change of body temperature. Strangely enough, most of us will calmly observe people around us (at times ourselves) having a full fledged manic episode with little or no concern, and attribute it to mood swings or maybe even a lovable quirk -- “you know how h/she is! It'll pass.”
The stigma associated with psychological problems which is automatically coupled with lunacy, prevents most people, even amongst the educated to seek professional help. Our first and biggest obstacle to overcome when dealing with mental health issues is denial. The greatest hits of the psychiatric wards, schizophrenia and depression are somewhat recognised and help is sought out as the symptoms become difficult to ignore. However, there are a number of disorders listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) that are less known (and can easily be mistaken for harmless eccentricities) but equally hamper our day to day lives. Among a few of these that are almost never talked of are:
Synaesthesia, a condition that makes you think numbers have colours and words (such as the days of the week) have personalities. Many people with synaesthesia use their experiences to be creative, and many non-synaesthetes have attempted to create works of art that may capture what it is like to experience synaesthesia. Here is a description of the disorder by one synaesthete: “I realised that to make an R all I had to do was first write a P and draw a line down from its loop. And I was so surprised that I could turn a yellow letter into an orange letter just by adding a line.” In a more bizarre twist, sufferers might mix sound and taste so that different noises might have a taste.
Another condition, symptoms of which might seem familiar to many is the Othello Syndrome, also known as delusional or morbid jealousy -- an absolute belief that your husband/wife/partner is cheating on you. It often leads them to threaten to attack their spouses or to stalk the imagined lovers of their spouses. In one case, a woman accused her husband of fathering 10,000 children with a 70-year-old mistress.
Androphobia is also a syndrome that pertains to our society. Simply put, it is a fear of men. People who suffer from this, experience extreme anxiety when they are in the presence of a man, despite the fact that they know that there is no immediate danger or threat to their life. This disorder is usually linked to something traumatic that happened to the person suffering from it when they were younger, usually associated with sexual harassment/abuse. As these incidents are either ignored or hushed up in our country and victims mostly left on their own to overcome the trauma, these symptoms will often serve as a cry for help.
Ignoring a psychological disorder will not make it disappear, and it will only worsen with time. The purpose of this column is to remind us of that and focus on a variety of such disorders -- discuss their causes, symptoms and possible treatments. Hopefully familiarising ourselves with these issues will make them less threatening and make us more willing to seek out much needed help.
Anika Hossain is a reporter for the Features section of The Daily Star. She believes she can relate to those with mental health issues as she has worked as a residential counsellor in an asylum a few years ago.