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Sushama Kirtikar

A columnist had once told me he does not relish talking into a vacuum. I agree, it feels hollow and defeats the purpose. Therefore, to receive letters from readers is indeed an honor. One letter by Raj Dasaee came my way recently that asked rather pointed questions about the causes of mental health problems. I have decided to allot this column to answering a few of them, as succinctly as is possible for me.

Q. “What is the mental health problem?”

A. “There is no one mental health problem. When the homeostasis or equilibrium of a person’s mental, emotional or psychological state is disturbed, it creates dissonance or an irksome imbalance within. When this persists and stays for a long period of time without signs of letting up, it leads to mental health problems. This is in no way different from physical health challenges. Mental illness, on the other hand, is a more chronic and challenging condition attributed to chemical imbalances in the brain.”

Q. “Is adjustment of the psyche or correcting chemical disturbance of the mind, a temporary or permanent solution?”

A. “Studies of successful treatments combining psychotropic medication and psychotherapy have shown long-term gains with occasional management of any recurring problems. This is again very similar to physical health issues.”

Q. “How can you as an authority scuba drive in the brain of a person who is mentally ill and correct the disorder of the brain?”

A. “In a sense, the way a surgeon dives into the innards of a person and corrects the physical problem, similarly, a mental health professional ‘dives in’ to help discern the source of distress. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication when appropriate to correct an imbalance. But that alone is not enough. A psychologist or counselor can guide the person to first identify faulty thinking, then, tap into his/her own resources and make healthy changes that can be conditioned into habit. At the end of the day, it is the person who heals him/herself. No outside source does that.”

Q. “Is the mental health problem because of conflict in relationship, psychological insecurity, fear, confused mind, social influences, wrong education system, uncontrollable desires, discontent, dissatisfaction in life, lack of love and sensitivity in family, overdependence on others, escapism, isolation, (and so on)?”

A. “All of the above reasons and many more causes are attributable to mental problems. Usually, it is a combination of causes and rarely is it due to a single identifiable root source.”

Q. “Is it because of society respecting people with power, money, position, status? Is it because of ambition, greed and a sense of failure? Is it because of wants becoming more important than needs?”

A. “Yes. These external and consequently internal demands can create stress, which if prolonged and unchecked could lead to mental health problems. A rabid need for external validation without truly knowing one’s own worth is precarious for good mental health.”

Q. “Is it because of lack of intelligence?”

A. “No. Cognitive intelligence has nothing to do with mental health. Highly educated and sharply intelligent people can suffer just as much from mental distress as the less fortunate or simpler folks. Logic and knowledge are at best weak defenses against mental distress and are not necessarily related to wisdom.”

Q. “Is it because of an over attachment to the "me", or an empty and lonely “me?”

A. “Traditionally, Eurocentric psychology is rooted in developing a strong ‘me,’ promoting the concept of developing ego strengths. This is diametrically opposed to the Eastern concept of letting go of the ego and surrendering to the will of a higher power. Therefore, a good balance between the two philosophies, meeting the person at his/her value system and addressing the person’s source of beliefs is critical. Context-sensitive evaluation and treatment are far more valuable and effective. ”

Q. “Is it because of lack of understanding of life and of oneself as a human being?”

A. “Certainly, a person’s worldview is integral to identifying the causes of distress and the cognitive themes that are maintaining the said distress. It is the most important and rudimentary part of the psychotherapy process: to check the lens that the person is looking at the world and him/herself through, cleaning the lens and perhaps even changing it.”

These are thought-provoking questions requiring detailed responses. At the risk of oversimplifying, I have attempted with singular brevity within the confines of this column. I look forward to further comments from you, the readers. In the meantime, I wish you all a peaceful and healthy culmination of the year 2007.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

There are many organizations in the Tampa Bay area that focus on helping special needs children but the one organization that everyone should know about it is STAND (Statewide Advocacy Network on Disabilities Inc.) This not-for-profit organization, which has been around since December 1996, was organized by a group of parents and attorneys to help educate people on their rights.

STAND's purpose it to inform the families of children with disabilities of their rights. It is dedicated to getting a child with a disability the right education that they are entitled to under the law. The three main laws that STAND is concerned with are: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973. It focuses on three topics: advocacy, legal rights, and above all, education.

This year, STAND will be hosting SPARC 2007 – Stand Pinellas Accessing Resource Conference. The organization’s goal is to provide parents, teachers, therapist and other professionals with resources that help children with disabilities make achievements in their life. STAND focuses on children with Special Needs and they take this mission very seriously.

This year SPARC 2007 will be held at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Pinellas Park, on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Morgan Fitzgerald is at 6410 118 Ave. N., Largo, FL 33773. Cost for the conference is $25 for pre-registration. That will include one entry to the conference, a lunch ticket and a program.

(Dr. Ram Ramcharran will be a guest speaker at the STAND event. He will be discussing how to better understand and deal with children with special needs. If you have any questions regarding this event, contact Melissa Tremblay, SPARC chairperson at (727) 784-8493 or visit

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at

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