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It’s often been said that a calm sea never made a sailor. And yet in this sea of life, mental health distress has morphed into an existential crisis given that  suicide accounts for over 800, 000 deaths every year according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Fortunately, there are those amongst us who have made it their business to lend a helping hand to those who harbour suicidal thoughts and even help them find a purpose worth living for.  One of them is Dhara Solanki, a mental health advocate, a practicing life coach and the Founder of Mind Matters Foundation. While pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health at Curtin University – Perth (Australia) Solanki spares no effort to help reduce the stigma in and increasing the awareness for it. Here is her  insightful interview.




What sparked your interest in mental health?

I had an aspiration to work in the public health arena. I wanted to syndicate my interest and skill sets to create a difference in the mental health ecosystem. With the experience of public health and being a life coach, I realised that there is no health without mental health as it is the next epidemic. I strongly believe there is a huge gap in addressing mental health issues in Kenya, and the need to reduce stigma and increase awareness, which is why I was instilled with the interest of setting up – Mind Matters Foundation- a platform where anyone seeking help can find comprehensive knowledge, connect with professionals and find comfort knowing that you are not alone and that it’s okay not to be okay.


Working in the mental health field is often stereotyped to involve doing talk therapy in a pretty office with soothing music in the background. Why do you think this is the case?

Well, I believe talk therapy can be done in any place that the customer is comfortable with. The reality is not necessarily different and again it has been stereotyped that talk therapies are conducted in closed confined rooms with a desk or a couch with a counsellor overlooking you asking questions. This is another reason why individuals who need help avoid seeking professional help due to the way it is perceived. It is important that a counsellor establishes a good environment for counselling whether in the health facility or in a home or a private counseling clinic. For many in the community, the health facility is a strange environment, so there is a lot you can do to improve the counselling environment. Even when visiting the home, you can create a better counselling environment by going to a separate room or asking friends and relatives to wait outside. It can even be conducted in an open environment. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind what works best for the client and the counsellor.  Moreover, when we talk about the counselling environment, it is not just the physical environment we are referring to. It also includes how you greet people, how you talk to them and other aspects of non-verbal communication such as eye contact and body language. How you treat people in these ways is all part of setting up a good counselling environment, and you are demonstrating your use of empathy and respect.


You have a website called Mind Matters that lists stress, anxiety, depression and psychosis as four types of mental health concerns that you focus on. How can someone tell they have one and not the other?

Mental health concerns are some of the most misunderstood conditions in our times. Not only are they feared by societies, but the stigma has also led to a lack of knowledge and understanding about these issues. With symptoms that can appear interchangeable, it can be difficult to know when to work on deep breathing and when to seek professional help.

The best way one can tell they have one and not the other is by carefully paying attention to the symptoms. Stress is your body’s reaction to a trigger and is generally a short-term experience. Stress can be positive or negative. When stress kicks in and helps you pull off that deadline you thought was a lost cause, it’s positive. When stress results in insomnia, poor concentration, and impaired ability to do the things you normally do, it’s negative. Stress is a response to a threat in any given situation. On the other hand, anxiety is a sustained mental health disorder that can be triggered by stress. Anxiety doesn’t fade into the distance once the threat is mediated. Anxiety hangs around for the long haul, and can cause significant impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. Depression is a constant feeling of sadness or loss of interest. It is a genuine health condition triggered by several causes that one has faced in their lifetime. It’s symptoms may include- insomnia, feeling helpless, feeling of guilt, extreme weight gain or loss, fatigue, irritability, loss of interest, persistent pains headaches et cetera. Whereas psychosis is a general term describing a person with a mental health problem in which person has lost contact with reality, disturbances in thinking, emotions and behavior. Is symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, lack of drive, belief of being ill, social withdrawal, memory problems et cetera.


Every year, millions of people deal with mental illness, but only a small percentage seek assistance. How can people surmount the stigma and find help?

Overcoming  stigma around mental health is one of our goals for Mind Matters Foundation. And the only way we can achieve this is by openly talking about mental health like we would physical health to help eliminate the fear of being judged, feeling of being isolated or being shunned and being called crazy or mad in society. We also need to get educated about mental health conditions and share what we’ve learned with friends. Knowledge is one of the best ways to combat stigma. Third, it’s crucial to seek help from a counsellor. Therapy can give you a safe place to discuss your concerns about stigma or how people will view you. Fourth, realise that mental illnesses don’t define us. Avoid calling someone (or yourself) anorexic, bulimic, bipolar or schizophrenic. Instead, it is more accurate to say that an individual is suffering from anorexia, bulimia, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Finally, compassion towards those who suffer mental illnesses  and make sure they do not feel alone.


What are your thoughts about emphasising positive human relationships as the
overarching means for good mental health?

I believe that mental illness stems from an imbalance in the mind and body, which is caused by an imbalance in society, which is further caused by an imbalance with nature.

By repairing our social connections, we bring ourselves into balance with nature, and such balance will positively affect not only our mental health, but also our general health and wellbeing. Which is why it is important to have positive human relationships. If we think about it, our whole life is based on relationships, at home, at work, with friends, acquaintances, at every level, in every field. We all want to succeed in life, get up in the morning happy and satisfied, but we live in a world with inequality and conflicts in basically every area where humans are involved.


What advice would you give to caregivers of people diagnosed with mental health distress?

Caring for someone with mental health problems comes with its challenges. Mental health problems vary greatly in severity and causes.

Communication can be a struggle for many people with a mental health disorder. Some people don’t have the motivation to communicate, while others lack the confidence to say what they really want to.

  • Communicate – give them enough time to make themselves heard and let them know that you accept them and their disorder. Often, people with mental health problems feel cut off from other people, including family, friends and neighbors.
  • Confidentiality – people who care for someone with a mental health disorder may find that some healthcare professionals are reluctant or unwilling to share information with them. This can be very frustrating since very often the carer has the fullest picture of the person’s condition. However, mental healthcare professionals are legally bound to protect the confidentiality of their patients, so they may be unable, rather than unwilling, to talk about care needs.

To avoid this problem, try to get the consent of the person you care for to discuss their care needs as early as possible after their diagnosis. This consent should be made clear on any care plans or documentation relating to their care, and any changes to this consent should be clearly noted.

  • Establishing the limits, you’ll need to have a conversation with the person you care for about what you are and what you are not prepared to do. You may need to be firm with your decision. If you feel you’re doing too much, see if someone else can share the caring responsibility with you.
  • Look after yourself – although it’s important to support the person you care for, it’s essential to look after your own mental health too. It’s important to maintain your own social activities. If you start to feel depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, it may be time to speak to your doctor about the impact your caring role is having on your emotional and mental health.


Finally, how has working in the mental health field changed you?

Working in the mental health field has changed my outlook on a lot of things when it comes to health – especially when I look at health as a whole. I have grown to learn that a simple thing like stigma can really influence one’s decision to seek the help they need; hence it is the small change we can all make as a society and a simple step we can take to prevent such a huge cause of death in our world today – suicide – which can be easily prevented.

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