The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Just a voice wanting to be heard

It is afternoon. Little Rahul is busy with the action, not in the park but on television. This is his window of opportunity between school and study at home. His mother believes an hour of TV will tire him less than an hour on the field.

In the evening, the family will be out for dinner at a relative's. Not Rahul. His tutor will be coming at the stroke of six and there's a test coming up.

But Rahul's mother does not know how this claustrophobic world is closing in on the boy. In an attempt to reach out to troubled souls and open the eyes of their guardians Samikshani, a mental healthcare centre in south Calcutta, organised an exhibition themed 'Youths under Pressure' over the weekend on its 25th anniversary.

Stress among adolescents and youth is assuming epidemic proportions, rued counsellor Banani Ghosh. 'We are encountering increasing cases of depression, suicide attempts, truancy, loneliness and unwantedness. These symptoms mostly boil down to that one cause.'

The symptoms even spread to the realm of the physical. 'A child may be feverish or suffer a stomach ache for days but tests will reveal nothing. Doctors are referring them to us,' Ghosh added.

That is not all. 'Eighty to 90 per cent physical illnesses have a psychological component. Also violence, drugs, drinking problems' all originate in the mind,' points out Rotraut Roychowdhury, founder-secretary of Samikshani.

The South End Park-based institute has mapped minds since 1980 when T.C. Sinha, former president of Indian Psychoanalytical Society, started training a band of enthusiastic post-graduates. 'On seeing our interest, he set up an institute at his residence,' recalls counsellor Jolly Laha.

While the number of members has increased from a single digit to around 70, the institute has started offering a one-year course at Jadavpur University. 'The course is an integrated approach to various therapies. Since the variety of clients is vast in India, counsellors need to be fully equipped,' Roychowdhury said.

The exhibition dealt with much more than depression, conduct disorders, peer relations and role confusion. 'It's surprising to see a poster on gays here,' said Rasheeqa Ahmad, a 20-something from the UK. Added her friend Ana Sagaseta, a psychology graduate from Spain: 'India is like my country in that people are not yet open to seeking help.'

Another visitor, Sujata Dey, mother of little Ananda, opined: 'The crisp wording of the posters helps clear confusion in us,' while walking up to take a spot test on emotional intelligence at the venue.

At least one family got much more help. A couple took its eight-year-old son to counsellor Laha manning a counter with the complaint that he was a bully. Cutting short their narration of their son's misdemeanours, she asked: 'Have you ever asked him why he behaves this way' The son, sullen and sickly, burst out in tears: 'Keu amar kotha shone na (No one listens to me)'.

Son walked out hand-in-hand with parents from the Academy of Fine Arts hall. His voice had been heard at last.

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