Does your child have the ‘blues’?

Coping with the “blues” in children can be hard.  Just because a child appears sad does not mean he or she is depressed. What are the early warning signs of depression and how does a parent make reach out? I came across this article by psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty which I found very useful and I wanted to share it.

 “Girls Interrupted: Early Signs: Is your child depressed”

 The recent episode of girls running away from their homes has shocked families and all concerned. These acts are ‘warning bells’ of the plight of children in the new age where cost of living and aspirations have rocketed sky high. Peer pressure and a common thread of pain running across a group of kids can be dangerous. Such acts have warning signs that are generally ignored or missed. Early identification of these signs is important. They are:

  ‘I do not like my house’

 Children who utter statements such as, ‘I do not like my house’, ‘my house is small, my friends have bigger homes’ should not be ignored. When repeated they are symptoms of a bigger malaise. Parents themselves need to respect their surroundings as they are. When the parents accept the state of affairs children are in a better state to accept their surroundings. When one parent constantly criticizes the other and blames him/her for the plight the child internalizes the same ‘low self-esteem’ state.  Remarks such as, ‘you have not achieved anything in so many years in Mumbai’ can instill dissatisfaction among children. Acceptance of life as it is and yet aspiring to move is a good attitude to practice.

 ‘My friends tease me and I feel small’

 When children regularly share that their friends tease them one needs to take notice. Many children join others in the same state and share their frustrations that may help. At times the frustration may mount in a group which feels cornered and perceives deprivation. Encourage the child to share such feelings in an environment of trust and complete acceptance. Also help the child to process these thoughts. Children should be allowed to reflect at these sentences and slowly they realize that those who tease and bully suffer from a deep sense of inferiority themselves. Conversations around their assets and abilities help veer them from external sources of self-esteem to internal resources. Gadgets are temporary and can be acquired today or tomorrow whereas the child himself/herself is the best gadget the universe has created sinks in as respectful conversations continue.  When my son wanted a gadget which I felt was of not much use we had a series of conversations across years. He continued holding on to his position but the conversations helped bonding.

 ‘I feel guilty as my parents are working so hard’

 Many children feel guilty as they cannot earn money for the family. At times parents unknowingly provoke guilt when they share their financial plight. One young girl stayed away in a park for two nights after hearing from the father that milk costs rupees 50 a liter and  a single guava costs rupees 10 and how difficult it is to run the household.  On the contrary parents should take the help of children to plan the family budget and expenses. When kids contribute to the decision making of the family they empathize genuinely and become part of the solution. When kids buy vegetables and do household work the bonding is immense. Children who are a part of the solution of problems in the family remain grounded and are free of guilt.

 ‘My friend is so bold and I like his/her ideas’

 It may happen that one of the kids in the group is a charismatic child and a counselor to the other. She/he may be dissatisfied and disgruntled herself/himself and may influence the others in a similar plight. So when children share glories of a friend allow the child to communicate feelings and thoughts. Improving emotional contact time inside the family and in school helps children break the conspiracy of silence and share possible running away behaviors or other undesirable behaviors.  A family that shares its feelings can preempt and anticipate behavioral disasters.

  ‘I am very depressed’

 Children who run away may be suffering from depression and should be screened for the same. Those who have absconded should be treated with infinite compassion and counseling. Viewing it as shameful is dangerous and parents who blame each other may further destroy the self-esteem of the child. Children may show excessive anger, laziness, excessive sadness, sleep problems, excessive tiredness and may feel hopeless and worthless. They need to be evaluated by a mental health professional at the earliest.

Remembering Shaima Alawadi & Trayvon Martin

Let Us..

Hide our bindis. It makes some people “physically and mentally sick” and can get one’s car windows smashed.

Not wear turbans because only terrorists do that and we can be gunned down.

Shave off our beards. It makes you appear alien, attracts laughter and derision.

Remove our head scarves and hijabs. It could get pulled off while you are grocery shopping. Or you could get beaten to death like California mother Shaima Alawadi.

Take off our hoodies. It looks “suspicious” and can get you killed. Look what happened to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as he walked back home from a grocery store.

Hide who we love.  You could be killed for violating caste boundaries or going against someone’s culture.

 To sum up.  Let us hide our differences, submerge the identities that makes each and every one of us unique.

To acknowledge and embrace diversity, in language, religion, thought and belief, can be challenging, even scary.

 So much safer to live in our cubby-holes of prejudice, of hate, and judge the world around us.

Join the Campaign

Charu Khandal’s condition is still critical.  Doctors say they cannot operate on her until the swelling in her spine subsides. She is on ventilator support. Meanwhile the driver of the Honda City that rammed into her cannot be found at the address he had given to the police.

Charu’s friends have started an online campaign to spread awareness against drunk driving and the need for stringent laws. Do support their campaign. Click

Prayers for Charu and Vikrant

Life couldn’t have looked better for Charu Khandal.  Just 28, she had recently won the National Award for Best Special Effects for the film Ra.One and her engagement was a few months away. 

Charu Khandal

All that changed yesterday. Early Sunday morning, while returning from a party she had thrown to celebrate the award, her auto rickshaw got hit by a speeding Honda City. She along with her companion were seriously injured. Charu suffered multiple fractures, her spine shattered in several paces. Doctors have told her family her chances of survival are slim. If Charu does pull through, she will be in a wheelchair.

You would think the driver of the Honda City, who according to reports had alcohol above permissible limits, would be in jail. In fact he was out on bail in just a couple of hours, for a measly Rs 5000 (US$100). 

India perhaps has the weakest law on drunken driving in the world. It is a bailable offence. You can get out on little as Rs 2000 (US$40) if you are a first time offender. No wonder then that every other day newspapers report  people dying in incidents of drunken driving, most of them poor pavement dwellers who have nowhere to sleep at night.

How many more incidents will it take before we campaign for a tough law on drunken driving?  What exists is a joke. Does something have to happen to people like us, our families and friends, before we speak out?  How many more Charus will it take?

Terrorism and Media Biases

Barring a few odd newspaper reports, the recent killing of 16 Afghan civilians, including 9 children, by an American soldier in Afghanistan has not received much attention in the Indian press. Looking at the horrific pictures of the children’s bodies being taken for burial, I can’t help but notice the number of explanations being offered by the international press for what led American sergeant Robert Bales to carry out that cold-blooded act. Bales was “drunk”, “under stress” because of money troubles and repeated tours, had marriage problems and a harrowing brain injury…So on and so forth.

Yet when Muslims in Afghanistan carry out such acts against American soldiers it’s seen as plain terrorism. Never mind the reasons these groups repeatedly offer – the repeated drone attacks which have killed countless civilians or other acts of aggression. Their acts are evil; plain and pure terrorism. The same understanding applied to Sergeant Bales is glaringly absent when it comes to the other side.

Surviving Cancer Costs

Imagine having to spend a lifetime’s savings in just four months on one single cancer medication. That is what happened to 63-year-old Narayan Bantu when he was put on a course of Bayer drug Nexawar which fights liver and kidney cancer. Bantu had to take four tablets a day and though he got it at a discount he ended up spending about 10,000 rupees, or US $200 a day.

“I watched all that I had saved up through the years disappear”, says Bantu. “My insurance does not cover these medicines. There came a point when I felt I could no longer continue with the treatment. Fortunately my doctor put me on another medication.”

Cancer patients like Bantu now have a reason to hope. For the first time, the Indian government has allowed Hyderabad-based pharma, Natco to sell its generic version of Nexawar at a fraction of what the latter drug costs in India. The order came because it was felt that Nexawar which is a lifesaving drug was exorbitantly priced and its benefits were was available to less than 1% of the public. But it does not permit Natco to export the drug.

“Like Nexawar there are over 20 cancer drugs whose costs run into lakhs,” according to Vinaya Chacko, Head of Patient Care at the Cancer Patients Aid Association, an NGO working for the welfare of cancer patients in India. A dose of Herceptin hailed as a breakthrough drug for breast cancer patients costs between RS 7-23 lakhs (US$ 20000- 50,000) depending on the treatment stage.

“Naturally the poor cannot afford them. Hardest hit are the middle-class. Insurance does not cover the costs of cancer drugs. At least the poor have access to NGOs,” says Chacko.

The order will hopefully open the field for other Indian pharmas to make cheaper versions of cancer drugs. ‘Patients are groaning under costs,” says Dr Jagannath, Chairman, Surgical Oncology at Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital and Research Centre. ‘We as surgeons are finding it difficult to justify the costs for the benefits.”  Multinational pharmas he says cannot price drugs in developing countries at the same cost as they do in the West.

At the same time Dr Jagnnath points out,” Indian companies must invest in research and development. They cannot be mere copycats of the West. Costs can also be brought down if manufacturing units are set up in developing countries.”

A group of cancer surgeons, including Dr Jagannath are carrying out trials of lower cost drugs in India. It’s a critical need. Consider the figures. There are over 3 million cancer patients in India with 800,000 new infections of various cancers and over 500,000 deaths every year.

The Deadly Pouch that Kills

She wafts across the screen in bright pink, tossing a handful of what looks like white crystals that promise to make you fresh and attractive. It’s an advertisement for Vimal Paan Masala, just one in a recent flood of such ads that are flooding our TV screens these days.

The images, a world apart from what we grew up watching – of avuncular, jolly “uncle-ji’s” passing around a pouch after a wedding. Those ads were not ‘cool’; the products were clearly targeted for a certain kind of audience. That strategy has changed with paan masala companies now going after a younger audience, even women and teenagers.

Watch out say anti-tobacco activists because the products that are being marketed under paan masala are actually a clever disguise for gutkha, a banned product. Gutkha, for the uninitiated, is a powdery, light-colored substance, typically taken after meals. It imparts a buzz as soon as one takes it. “What is advertised as Chaini Chaini on TV screens is later sold as Chaini Khaini”, says an activist. “This is the manufacturers’ way of circumventing the ban on advertising tobacco products.”

Recent studies have shown that the smokeless forms of tobacco being marketed in India contain over 3,000 harmful substances. About 30 are proven carcinogens, the most dangerous being areca nut. Yes that same harmless betel nut! Growing up, I saw so many women in my family eat that after a meal.

Smokeless tobacco contains arsenic, cadmium, lead, chromium and nickel which is why activists have been pushing for a ban on these products. India has among the highest rates of oral cancer in the world and 90% of oral cancer patients are tobacco users. One of the main reasons is the high social acceptability, fuelled by ads which show couples sharing paan masala with friends or distributing them at weddings. Smoking lacks social acceptability particularly for women and is banned in public places. Paan masala has no such restrictions. Many people are still unaware of the damage they inflict because they are marketed as mouth fresheners.

Even worse, the Healis Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health, among the leading anti-tobacco campaigners, warns that gutkha use is rising among children in India. Its report says about 5 million children under the age of 15 years are addicted to gutkha or paan masala. Gutkha was identified as a problem in Mumbai municipal schools as early as 1997 by children between the ages of 10 to 15 years. 

The long term solution is to crack down on manufacturers of these products. But banning these advertisements which flood our screens is a small step towards saving many lives.

Need permission to work late!

Ban women from working late – This order passed by the Gurgaon administration in response to the recent spate of attacks on working women is absolutely pathetic and outrageous.  Now all malls and commercial establishments operating in this city near the national Capital need a special permission from the labour department when they have women working after 8 PM.

Instead of cracking down on offenders, ensuring safety at the workplace and streets and better public transport, the Gurgaon administration has effectively washed it’s hands off the problem, placing the onus squarely on women, companies, malls..Pretty much everyone, except themselves. The problem, they seem to suggest, lies with women themselves.

An order like this only marginalizes women further, pushes them back into the four corners of their homes.  Think about it. How many companies will want to hire women?

In “Why Loiter? Women and risk on Mumbai Streets”,  sociologist Shilpa Phadke, journalist Sameera Khan and architect Shilpa Ranade suggest that one of the factors that makes Mumbai a relatively safer city for women is because of the access they enjoy to public spaces.  It is a space that over the years has seen a gradual shrinking.  Incidents of violence against women are witnessing a rise. What is heartening is that every time there has been an attack on women in public like the Marine Drive rape case or random attacks on suburban trains, the administration’s response has not been to curb women’s movements, but to step up security.

I don’t mean for this to become a Mumbai vs. the Rest of the country debate but this trend of authorities absolving all responsibility is a disturbing one. It’s not just Gurgaon. Look at Kolkata, ruled by a woman Chief Minister. After a woman at a city night club complained of rape, the CMs first response was to order all clubs to shut down by 11 PM. Not a word about the insensitivity with which the police dealt with the victim or the delay in responding to her complaint.