Investigating misleading claims made by a viral YouTube video on modern-day mental health treatments to address the hesitancy about seeking professional help.
When a public speaker with a massive social media following makes unfavourable generalisations about medical treatments for depression and anxiety, the repercussions can be harmful to public health. A video (in Hindi) on Sandeep Maheshwari’s YouTube channel, with over 65 lakh views and more than 2.4 lakh likes (at the time of writing), makes multiple misleading claims about modern-day mental health treatments.
Dr. Debanjan Banerjee, a Kolkata-based psychiatrist, helps examine the claims through a scientific lens.
Claim: Psychiatrists only treat symptoms; they don’t treat the cause of mental illness.
Fact: Psychiatry is the branch of medicine – its origins can be traced way back to 1808 – that focusses on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioural disorders. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, who specialises in mental health, and is qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems.
“All certified doctors, including psychiatrists, start with treating the symptoms. The relevant therapies and treatments come in later, based on the diagnosis and patient’s condition. The problem is that many people, particularly in India, don’t consider mental illness as a disease,” says Dr. Debanjan.
Claim: Psychiatrists prescribe sedative drugs, which make the patient drug dependent.
Fact: Sedatives are a category of drugs that slow brain activity. Also known as tranquilizers or depressants, sedatives have a calming effect and can help induce sleep.
“There are modalities of treatments in psychiatry, and giving sedatives is one of them. Considering the patient’s condition, capability and other circumstances, the psychiatrist recommends therapies, medications, and even exercises at times,” explains Dr Debanjan.
Claim: Psychiatric medications are not natural. They release blocked chemicals in the brain and make people excited, which is very dangerous.
Fact: There are certain medicines designed to act on chemical messengers or neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the human brain. These affect one’s mood, thinking, and behaviour. However, not all mental illnesses are the same.
“What is natural? Natural is something we are born with. We are born with these hormones and chemicals circulating in our body 24/7; this is natural. What these medicines do is help restore the balance, when there are deficiencies or other disruptions. Just like insulin injections or thyroid medications, which are prescribed as well as taken without this kind of stigma,” notes Dr Debanjan.
Given the many existing barriers to accessing timely treatment and prevailing hesitancy about seeking professional help, it’s important to debunk the myths and break the stigma around mental health.