Psychiatry: Respectable socially valued profession

With the number of people suffering from mental and emotional health problems having multiplied exponentially, career opportunities for trained psychiatrists are excellent
In contemporary high-pressure society where stress is ubiquitous, a growing number of people — from teenagers to geriatrics — are experiencing difficulty in managing and coping with competition, rejection, loneliness, changing gender equations, altered lifestyles etc. Continuous stress plays havoc with the brain and body systems and has resulted in a huge increase in people suffering from mental and emotional health problems. Not surprisingly career opportunities in mental healthcare, especially in psychiatry are multiplying rapidly.

According to a World Health Organization report, one of four people in the world will suffer from mental health problems at some point of time in their lives and mental health disorders are expected to rank second in the list of killer diseases by 2020. Therefore, a whole new world of opportunities comes-a-knocking for psychiatrists at a time when the social stigma attached to this career has evaporated.

To practice psychiatry one has to first qualify as a medical practitioner (MBBS) and specialise in mental health with either a diploma in psychological medicine (DPM) or a Masters in medicine (MD). Most medical colleges in the country offer psychiatry as a specialisation. Within psychiatry too, there are several sub-specialisation options such as child, community, forensic, geriatric, rehabilitation, military, and biological psychiatry. The latest addition to the list is sports medicine psychology for which theres a rising demand.

Some of the reputed institutions and universities across the country offering courses in psychiatry are:

Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh
All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi
All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mumbai
BM Institute of Mental Health, Ahmedabad
Central Institute of Psychiatry, Ranchi
Christian Medical College, Vellore
Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, New Delhi
Karnataka University, Dharwad
Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi
Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi
Medical College, Chennai
National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi
National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore
Postgraduate Institute, Chandigarh
Punjab University, Chandigarh
Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur
University of Madras, Chennai
Nair Hospital, Mumbai

Besides MD and DPM, the National Board of Examinations conducts a Diploma of National Board Exam (DNB) which is considered to be equivalent to an MD degree.

For those with an interest in human behaviour and psychology, who are not medical professionals but choose careers in the field of mental health, the best option is to train as psychologists or counsellors. Societal demand for their services is also growing.

With the number of patients rising rapidly, psychiatry is a financially rewarding career. In Mumbai, fees for each visit ranging between Rs.500 and Rs.800 are de rigueur.

Despite lingering vestiges of the stigma associated with this profession, career prospects for psychiatrists are bright. The knowledge, facilities, and medication are highly sophisticated and easily available in India today,” explains much-sought-after psychiatrist Dr. Anjali Chhabria, who runs her clinical practice in Vile Parle in suburban Mumbai, where a stream of patients visit her every morning.

Chhabria was intrigued by human behaviour and psychology while still in school. In 1985, she was awarded an MBBS by Grant Medical College, Mumbai. Following a years internship, she secured admission in the two-year diploma course in psychological medicine of Mumbais K.E.M.

Hospital from where she graduated in 1989. This was followed by an MD in psychiatry from Nair Hospital in 1990. I specialised in psychiatry against my parents wishes as it was not considered a socially acceptable career for women in those days, with most teaching hospitals preferring to admit only male psychiatrists. Many people tried to dissuade me but I was adamant,” she recalls.

The first job Chhabria landed after being awarded an MD in 1990 was in the special clinic of the School of Mental Health at Nair Hospital where she treated children and adolescents. A year later, she moved to the Cooper Hospital where she lectured in psychiatry for seven years. Sufficiently qualified, she plunged headlong into private practice in 1998.

Chhabria whose patients range from children to geriatrics, including a 104-year-old, says that with society becoming incrementally complex, people with mental and emotional disorders are multiplying. But even as the demand is booming, there are hardly 5,000 psychiatrists in India given that a large number of Indian graduates are lured away” by western countries. This at a time when one in every four people visiting a doctor suffers from depression,” she laments.

Yet with psychiatry becoming a socially valued and respectable profession for young school leavers, Chhabria recommends it. We handle children, adolescents, old people, community problems etc whereas in developed nations it tends to be a highly specialised — and somewhat monotonous — profession. And our multiskilled and holistic approach to psychiatry is being appreciated abroad because a growing number of foreigners are coming to India for treatment,” says Chhabria.

Chhabria certainly has her hands full handling problems of children and families, and advising education institutions and corporates. Moreover she contributes advisory columns in various papers and magazines, was a counsellor to participants in the television reality show Fame Gurukul, and serves on the board of the Childrens Film Society.

Always on the lookout to extend the reach of her chosen profession, Chhabria is also conducting relaxation activities. Its important to give people more than mere advice. They need sustained support to cope with crises. To this end Ive set up two support groups and will be doing more,” she explains.

With the coming of age of mental health professions, psychiatry is a serious career option full of the promise of success and fulfilment.

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