Even after substantial advancements in medical sciences, evaluation of mental malaise often resembles the proverbial elephant being described by three blind men- neurologist, psychiatrist and psychologist- who refuse to look at human being as a Theseus ship having a whole bigger than the sum of its parts!
The neurologist thinks that you are your brain; the psychiatrist thinks you are your mind and the psychologist thinks that you are your behavior. So, the treatment strategy gets divided because of the knowledge-divisions created by the educational system.
In addition to this, people are unable to differentiate between a psychologist, who has only an outside access to mind through the person he/she is counseling; and a psychiatrist, who is a specialist and can also use medicines that allow him/her to deal directly with inner working of the mind by tweaking brain chemistry.
On the whole, lack of cohesion between professionals, ignorance about their roles and traditional stigma about mental illnesses has prevented people to benefit from the substantial advancements, especially in psychiatry. Psychiatry, a branch that has the ability to prevent a lot of misery, remains under-utilized in India.
Unfortunately, we also have an additional, and may be more serious dimension to this problem, and that is near-complete male-dominance in practicing psychiatry. It could be the fear of handling the unstable (and possibly violent) or the discomfort in confronting sexual issues, but females are surely not opting for this specialty. Though no one has noticed it; their aversion could actually be adversely impacting women of our society.
Indian woman, living in an oppressive society and unsafe environment, is a prime candidate to suffer from a range of mental issues that need medical support. These problems, now understood to be far more common, have treatment options that, if utilized, will provide a better quality of life to millions of suffering women. But, this is probably not happening and one possible reason could be the strange deficit of female psychiatrists in India.
A female mind is not entirely like a male mind, so its fears and emotions are probably alien for a male brain to comprehend. With a far more volatile endocrine system and raging hormones, women are a mystery that men have admired but never solved. And yet, a woman with troubled mind has no other option but to go to a male psychiatrist for help!
Even with strong knowledge base and clinical experience, a male psychiatrist can’t really hope to relate to the feelings and emotions running in the mind of a female patient. Mind, unlike the body is intangible, so the need of treating it requires ability to comprehend it in all its nuances, making psychiatry possibly the most gender-sensitive profession.
As a male doctor will not be able to “feel” a female problem, it is entirely possible for him to either trivialize it or classify it based on a prejudiced understanding of a woman most men carry. I suspect that no amount of professional training can really hope for a man to break free from the traditional or social image he carries about women in general. This would mean that, more often than not, female patients will find it difficult to open up, get proper and sympathetic hearing and a holistic solution to their problem from a male psychiatrist.
It is clear that we need to recognize this problem and take serious steps to correct it. Effort should be made in understanding the reasons behind the avoidance shown by female doctors in choosing this specialty and corrective steps must be taken immediately.
We need more female psychiatrists and the way to do it to create healthcare infrastructure that supports them to carry out their practices with ease. With the wind of privatization blowing, it should be possible to solve the practical problems that deter females from joining the domain that desperately needs them.