by Siya Aggarwal

Understanding Mental health amidst Uncertainty with Dr. Zirak Marker.

The second speaker as part of the Human Library series is a distinguished child and adult psychiatrist and psychotherapist. Dr. Zirak Marker has more than 19 years of professional background in the field of Educational Psychology. He has graduated with an MBBS from DY Patil University and DNB in Psychiatry along with clinical training. Today, Dr. Marker is the “Medical Director of the Aditya Birla Integrated School for children with learning disabilities and psychological/emotional problems.”

Question: How did your journey in psychiatry beigain? 

“I don’t think I was particularly inclined towards this field initially, and this profession was a discovery along my journey. Apart from going through schooling, there was really no option in those days. I was also told by my family that I have to pursue a career in medicine and become a good doctor. That was the foundation from which my journey began. After that, strangely enough, I was very keen to specialize in ophthalmology and it was my dream to become an eye surgeon. At the time there were extreme challenges when it came to lack of availability with seats and the percentages that were admitted. I was never a topper in terms of being a 95% student. So while applying to institutes in our forms we had to specify option one option to option three. My second option was psychiatry. There were only four seats available in ophthalmology, and I did not make the cut and that is how I got into psychiatry. The journey post shows what is the pricing enough to do with the movie called “The sixth sense”. There was Bruce Willis as a child psychiatrist and I think that truly fascinated me and brought me closer to this subject” 

Question: What was your mental health like in your youth?

“Through my experiences in school, I did not have the best of times. Between grades 8, 9, and 10 I think I have had the worst years of my life. I was extremely terribly ragged and bullied in school by my close friends who I knew since primary school. Kids can become really nasty during those times and they turned against me.. The bullying varied from verbal to emotional and even physical harm. At the same time, my mom got diagnosed with cancer. In those days there was no real mental health support, there was no concept of counseling or anything along those lines. All of this accumulated and eventually,  I realised the importance of mental health not just for children and the youth but for everybody around.”

Question: Could you tell us a little bit more about that importance of mental health 

“Parents need it today, children need it today, Unfortunately so, I also feel that mental health is still a taboo . In these times which we like to refer to as uncertain times we all need outlets. Even the concept of mental health itself is for some reason connected to suicide, what people read in the news, examples such as Sushant Singh Rajput that has become this sensation. People don’t realize that mental health itself is a continuum. When I use the word continuum it starts with well-being and progresses into the other part of the spectrum being an illness. 

Question: What is the reality of the general state of mental health today? 

“We have to acknowledge the reality that one infour people today in this world have a mental health concern or a mental health illness (World Health Organisation). The same statistics also show that India is the most depressed country in the world. The scariest ofstatics to have recently come out says that there is one suicide attempt every 3seconds and one death by suicide every 40 seconds. The statistics are just to provide you with the concerns about mental health and how it is slowly emerging and going to become a crisis. Another very scary statistic says that 50% of all mental health concerns start from the age of 14. We can’t even say that children are protected from mental health aspects. In fact, it begins in the childhood and adolescent years. As educators, parents,adults or anyone who deals with the youth needs to understand the dire importance of this. The stigma of society is such that by the time there is an onset of a mental health concern until the treatment it takes 8 to 10 years. This is the result of the terrible stigma and the basis that’s around mental health. For parents it’s like a judgement they always feel like people will look at them as a sign of weakness due to the labelling that will surround them.  They look at it as a sense of feeling on themselves or on the child. A huge aspect of why mental health care doesn’t reach the people who need it is also a lack of awareness. There are so many people in the youth going through clinical depression and severe anxiety or panic attacks and things like that but they feel like it’s part of who they are or part of who they are becoming and they don’t even realise that it’s an actual concern. Another typical myth is that “you have to be really crazy and then you go and see a professional”. That’s completely not true , we do not prescribe medication on a whim etc. Even having someone to talk to can be beneficial”

Dr. Marker provided us with not only an informative session but allowed us to acknowledge that what we feel is valid, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in seeking help. Society requires a mindset change regarding mental health. He gave us a reality check illustrating the importance of mental health. His personal experiences paired with his professional expertise enabled us to take away many lifelong learnings.