On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, October 10, Dr Navin Saxena, Chairman, Rusan Pharma opines that substance abuse/ addiction is a mental illness. With 270 million Indians addicted to tobacco, the country needs the right combination of technology (newer delivery systems like transdermal patches) to offer more effective ways of dealing with the addiction
There was a time when mental health meant just one diagnosis — mad. Those creatively inclined scraped through by calling themselves inspired, the rest were packed off to madhouses. These were spaces where ill-informed and an insensitive lot of people inflicted pain and misery on a misunderstood lot of people. The end result was a gaping hole in the understanding of the human psyche, a lack of recognition of pattern and behaviour that would have enabled diagnosis. People were written off as ‘mad’, ‘hopeless’ cases whose lives were forever lost, their families to mourn them prematurely. In India, lack of information, education and research had created the dark ages and we lived within those times, uneasy of our actions, but unable to change our ways.
Until a handful of people recognised the patterns, started attributing behavioural anomalies to personalities and circumstances. They started looking at the complexities of the brain, only beginning to grasp the entire universe that the human brain is capable of producing. Chemical imbalances were first recorded, and ‘mad’ started to fade into clear categories with relatively evolved diagnoses. Mankind was moving into the age of enlightenment and his brain was finally taking the lead. Freud and Jung’s theories helped to establish the rudimentary beginnings of psychology and eventually became the foundation on which numerous doctors later added theories to help navigate through human experience.
Today, mental health is far removed from the past. Every moment of our lives can be explained, and often our personalities and predispositions predict the trajectory of our lives. Personality tests are available online and within seconds you can delve into the details of your life and yourself. Self improvement is a career, with life coaches and armies of psycho-analysts out there determined to help. And yet, mankind falters in the face of new illnesses, new diseases.
Addiction as a mental health illness
Disease teaches mankind to be stronger, more prepared, eventually evolving us into a better species. Illness, physical or mental, gives us an opportunity to look further into ourselves and find out what’s not making us tick. One of these illnesses is addiction. And yes, addiction is a mental illness. It changes the brain in a number of ways, turns priorities upside down, changes the very nature of our physiological and psychological selves. And like all illnesses, there is a cure, there are ways to overcome it.
The mental health situation in India has not always been at par with the more evolved standards and methods in other countries. However, there are pockets where practices and concerns have led to innovative treatments and research.
Addiction can range from from teens being addicted to smoking and drinking to hard core drug addiction. The best way to tackle these problems would be catch them early on. The upheavals in a teenager’s environment and body during adolescence make him or her an easy target. Peer pressure, and nowadays pressure from external social media can lead them down paths that are difficult to return from. But, not impossible.
The pitfalls of addiction have been detailed ad nauseam. High blood pressure, liver damage and type II diabetes are just some of the ill effects of excessive smoking and drinking. In India, studies have shown that teens have started consuming alcohol before they turn 15 and are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse in a later stage in their life.
One of the most basic ways of tackling this is for parents to maintain open communication with their teenage children. Children should feel comfortable enough to approach their parents to engage them and sound them out on issues that disturb them. It’s imperative that parents instil a home of trust, confidence, comfort and nurture so that children never feel threatened to approach them on issues that might be troubling them. The ability to bring up a confident child, who cannot only remain unaffected by the habits of his or her peers, but also influence his friends to follow his example, is not an impossible task. The onus of this of course lies entirely on the parents. There are counselling services now available in India that help guide parents at every step and also act as mediators to help explain the benefits of addiction treatment to the patient.
In a lot of cases, addiction needs more help that just nurture. Addiction in its most aggressive form creates chemical imbalances in the body, and while a clear and strong mind can help the healing process, often the body itself needs some outside help.
Technology in healthcare
We live in a world driven by technology and therefore it is only natural that this time too, technology steps in to save the day. The application of technology in this sector is simple enough. World class laboratories around the world work tirelessly around the clock to develop clever drugs, potent mixes of chemicals to help those who want to help themselves.
The first step towards cure is acceptance of the problem which will drive the need to seek treatment and desire a better quality of life. This is often a combination of therapy, counselling, medicines and an equally controlled environment. Bad habits cannot be stopped overnight as the body needs to heal after a prolonged period of trauma.
Within this space, the Indian healthcare industry is a veritable giant. Innovative treatments and potent drugs are being churned out of laboratories every day. These are easily accessible and the services are only improving day to day. A playing field of both private and public players is levelling out problems and making transitions from lab to shop much easier. Conservative estimates have pinpointed the Indian healthcare industry at $65 billion that includes healthcare delivery, which includes hospitals, nursing homes and diagnostics centres, and pharmaceuticals, all of which constitute 65 per cent of the overall market. By 2017 it’s been predicted to grow to $160 billion and to $280 billion by 2020.
One of the main reasons for these numbers is the whole hearted acceptance of technology. It enables patients to instantly find a doctor nearest to them in just a few seconds through a website or an app. Technology is bridging the gap between the doctor and patient and making treatment provider’s information available at our fingertips. It enables the development as well as availability of healthcare services across the country, making it cost effective and consumer friendly. Simple but effective measures include systematised storage of patient records, measuring progress and enabling speedy and effective drug administration. Aggressive diseases like cancer require minute monitoring, tracking a patient’s progress over days, weeks, months and even years. This is where technology steps in, making it a seamless and easy process, requiring minimum effort from hospitals or care givers. Sharing records between doctors and hospitals help consultants work to the best of their abilities, making diagnoses and treatment that much more efficient.
For higher patient compliance
Technology helps in the smallest ways possible, to have major positive ramifications. To help the 270 million Indians addicted to tobacco, Rusan Healthcare recently launched India’s first 24 Nicotine Transdermal Patch, 2baconil. The product has been introduced in India for the first time as a form of Nicotine Replacement Theory. The pharma company has created a more effective way of weaning people off cigarettes, working with advanced formulations and smart time-release technology that ensures a steady deliver of a therapeutic and sustained delivery of Nicotine into the body to curb the patients craving for tobacco. The therapy aims to reduce the physiological craving over a period of time, which enables the patient to focus on their psychological implications.
With six trillion cigarettes being smoked a year in India, the company’s vision vision has been to bring products into the Indian market which will be not just quality driven but also bring convenience to users, through newer delivery systems like the transdermal delivery systems, which ensures higher patient compliance and ease of use. If we are in knowledge of the fact that there are millions of Indians going to die, especially the youth, then our efforts need to be intensified and focused on saving their lives.
From the local chemist maintaining private patient files to doctors monitoring everyday movements and lifestyle of their patients, technology is breaking new barriers everyday. From a simple diagnosis of mental health to a detailed many-stepped programme to recovery, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where this was not always the case.
Healthcare in general has to evolve with or even faster than human beings. As the world changes around us, we are racing to catch up. Within that sector, mental healthcare occupies a more specialised seat. The degree to which this segment needs to develop and stay ahead of the race is much higher. However, with the right combination of technology and critical thinking, it is evident that this is not just possible, but is already happening.