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Interview

Shriya Naidu.

My name is Shriya Naidu and I work at IIT Gandhinagar, conducting outreach activities that bring cognitive science to the inquisitive and curious students as well as the general public with information important for their well being. I also work with Stimulus as co-founder. Stimulus is an online non-profit led by the youth that works to engage younger students to encourage them in fields of STEM, particularly neuroscience. 

I assume that mental health is a very familiar topic as it correlates with neurology and psychology. What is a common misbelief about mental health that you’ve learned or seen?

That’s an interesting question! 

People think mental health issues can be healed by following a proper schedule, eating well, sometimes even praying to god. 

That’s a misbelief that I hope I could reduce by citing studies on Neuropsychology. The neural basis of certain psychological disorders are proof that following a schedule won’t help unless you address the issue and intentionally work towards reducing the symptoms. In that process, you can try following a schedule, eat well or pray and that might help, but only if you address the root issue and if you prefer these activities. Everyone is different, and what works for someone may not work for others. 

Are they some brain-stimulating activities to help reduce stress?

Before I suggest some activities, let me briefly tell you what stress is. 

Most people know what is Fight and Flight. It’s a mechanism developed by our brain and body to respond to threats in our environment. Such as the appearance of a hungry tiger. This mechanism has saved our ancestors from predators in the past, hence it still survives within us. 

Now let’s look at what stress is in today’s world. As I mentioned, it’s a response to threat in our environment. What sort of threats do we face today? 

  1. Scared of not getting our desired institution of education 
  2. Scared that society will judge our decisions
  3. Scared that people will not like us on social media
  4. Scared that we won’t get a good job
  5. Scared that we aren’t good enough as someone else
  6. Scared of not finding anyone to love 
  7. Scared of our own physical safety

    And many other such scenarios that always put us in a fight-or-flight mode, even if there is no physical threat visible. 

To reduce this sort of stress, you can do many things but they need to have one thing in common, that is, you need to tell yourself that it will be okay and you need to concentrate on the task you’re doing and try not to think of the possible consequences of the things you’re worried about.  

Try out activities like:

  1. Physical Sports such as Football, basketball, frisbee, cycling, athletics, kabaddi etc.
  2. Art such as dancing, drawing, painting, writing, singing 
  3. Normal activities such as hot water bath, foot soaking, cooking or just an in-person conversation with a friend

It is crucial that you do something that you enjoy and just be engaged in it, however, sports has been a proven method to reduce stress. It’s like a bubble bath for your brain!

How has the pandemic affected you mentally? What things did you learn about yourself throughout the course of this pandemic that you didn’t know before?

I learnt my love for communicating science.

As a masters student of Neuropsychology, I dreamed of being a researcher. After I received the IBRO DANA Brain Awareness Week Grant, I conducted a virtual event during the pandemic, and I could see the number of people being benefited by this information. For example, one of our speakers talked about nutrition and the brain and how it could help with aging adults. This encouraged older adults to switch to healthier diets. I was shocked at the power of communicating science in a simple way, and I could see the community benefiting from it directly. That’s when I started Stimulus with Sasha Agarwal and Stuti Chakroborty to make neuropsychology available for the school students. Our event, NeuroNovember was completely free and encouraged students from schools to participate, and made an impact on the 800 or so participants that attended it. IIT Gandhinagar’s cognitive science department wanted to make a similar impact, hence they have started working on outreach as well. I’m glad the pandemic helped me realise my potential in this sphere.

On a grimmer note, the pandemic had me worried about the virus and slight paranoia of cleanliness, but I think I have come to terms with it due to my loved one’s support.

Is there a message that you’d want to share with others on mental health or relating issues?

Opt for counselling.

All of us have gone through and are still going through the harsh effects of COVID-19 through the economic collapse, healthcare issues, and online education. In such times, underlying issues that you never dealt with before may resurface and affect your mental health. If you don’t feel okay for whatever reason or don’t know why you don’t feel good, please opt for counselling. 

But proceed with caution. I am not proud to say that there are counsellors that may not be good and may do more damage than heal. Please ask the counselling service or counsellor to give you one free session. If you don’t feel slightly better with your first conversation, you might want to try another counsellor. It’s important to know that everybody is different and someone that works for you may not work for someone else, so please take your time in finding the right counsellor for you. 

Are there any specific psychological conditions/disorders that mean a lot to you? Why do they hold importance and how can we, as a community, help and provide support to people who go through them?

Thank you for bringing this question up. 

During my bachelors in psychology, I worked as an intern with a Neurologist who specialises in child neurology. During my internship I met parents of children with neurological disorders, the most common were ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Epilepsy and Autism. Though the children are receiving necessary treatment, it’s the parents who fail to get the compassion and support they deserve from the society. Most commonly, they are excluded and judged on something that is not under their control. For example, parents of children with special needs find it hard to go to social events as their child may have fits, bouts of anger and may behave inappropriately. In such situations, our society doesn’t respond with empathy but with judging remarks which leads to isolation of parents and their child from social scenarios. 

More awareness of special children is required for people to accept them within the society and give a helping hand rather than shun them completely. 

Why do you think prioritizing mental health is so important, especially for youth?

The youths are the future of everybody’s tomorrow.

It is during your youth you are aware of mental health issues and have the agency to do something about it. Think of a world where when someone gets bullied, instead of responding in anger towards others (projection) or hating oneself (self harm), they realise that they don’t feel good so they go to a counsellor who helps them deal with the situation in a healthy way. Once this person understands that issues like these can be resolved with a bit of help, they would seek it until they become resilient to social trauma or become fully equipped to deal with it. 

In the future, this individual will be more empathetic to people suffering from mental health issues and will be supportive of people wanting to seek help. Youth also have a voice in today’s world, and with more people realising what mental health issues are, there are higher chances of people advocating for the better. Doesn’t that sound like progress in the sphere of mental health?

Who have been your biggest role-models or resources in times of unsureness, grief, and healing? 

In times of unsureness, I go to my loved ones who know me and care about me. They help me with my grief by listening to me and help me heal. However, for motivation, I look up to strong women in history such as Marie Curie and Audrey Hepburn.

Have you been with a person that had a mental illness? How did you help them?

I haven’t personally lived with someone with a diagnosed mental illness, but I believe that all of us have issues to resolve. I have personally gone for counselling (after changing 3 counsellors, I felt most comfortable with the 4th) and have encouraged my loved ones to go for counselling, and they have. That has made them more understanding and empathetic individuals. 

What does mental health mean to YOU?

Good mental health is a way of life.

I don’t think I could think of mental health as a separate part of my life. It’s something that I try incorporating in my life, every day and every time. I identify things that cause stress and address them with the people I work with. I identify people that make me unhappy and either find a middle ground or try to distance myself politely. I play sports, draw, sing, dance, take care of plants, go cycling and ensure that I enjoy each moment of my time here on this planet. I do not save it for later. I also prioritise work and I take pleasure in the work I do!

Is there anything else you would like Revive’s audience to know about you?

In the spirit of communicating science, I conduct multiple activities on behalf of the IIT Gandhinagar (India) cognitive science department as well as Stimulus. If you would like to learn more about neuropsychology and grow your interests in STEM, please follow the social media handles or the pages of these two organisations (mentioned below). We conduct all our events for free!


Check out Shriya & Relevant Organizations!

Shriya

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