On first meeting, Dr. Shekhar Seshadri with his hoop earring on one ear and long shoulder length hair gives the impression of being more of a rock star than a psychiatrist. But the twenty minutes interview with the world-renowned child psychiatrist from Nimhans, India at the luxurious Grand Sultan Tea Resort, Sylhet convinced me of his dedication to his profession. These are some of the highlights of our conversation.Let’s start from the very beginning.
What made you want to be a psychiatrist?
When I was a third year medical student, I noticed that doctors have the tendency to refer to patients as cases rather actual person.For example, a patient with cholecystitis would be referred to as the gall bladder case instead of being called by his name. The fact that a patient was labeled as a body part instead of treated as a human being pained me a lot. So, I decided to do my further studies in a subject that gave me liberty to treat a patient as a whole, not just a specific organ. My chosen field allows me to do so. When I see a child, I get to see him/her in totality as a person, not just a body part.
In our region, there is a stigma attached to psychiatry. Young doctors having just passed their M.B.B.S. are often discouraged by their parents from studying this subject. Did you face such adversity with your family?
Well, it has all to do with culture and background you grew up in. If you come from a family that values your opinion and is enlightened enough to realize the importance of this subject, these problems ceases to exist.When I did my post-graduate studies in the eighties, the perspective regarding psychiatry had changed. Society was more accepting of this subject. Hence I faced little difficulty.
What are difficulties you face as a child psychiatrist? What do you find most rewarding?
I would like to answer the second part first. The most rewarding part is being able to an essential part of child’s development. You get to be an integral part of the child’s life. When I met young man who I treated as child and they say “Dr. Seshadri, do you remember me? You treated me when I was a young boy. What you did for me changed my life.” I feel rewarded. And the most difficult part is not being able to reach every child in need of mental health services. India is big country. For every child you get to treat there are many others you can’t reach out to. This is very frustrating.
What do you think is the main difference of approach to psychiatry between the west and our region?
Well, the sheer number of patients we have to deal with are huge when compared to the west. We have to see hundreds of cases every day. So, the time allocated for each patient is compromised.
What kind of patients do you face mostly at your center?
Well, Nimhans is a qua-ternary hospital. Patients from all around India even abroad come for treatment. From Neurodevelopmental Disorders to Externalising Disorders -we see all sorts of patients.
What would be your advise to budding psychiatrists and child psychiatrist?
My advice would be not to limit yourself to text book only. Psychiatry cannot be learned from books and journals only. You have to broaden your horizon. Watch as many movies as you like. Read story books and see theater to grasp of psychiatry.
And finally, how do you deal with the stress of your job?
I have a world outside of psychiatry. I am trained musician. I listen to a lot of music.Also I play active role in theater. These things keep me sane and helps me deal withthe stress of my job.
Dr. Sumaiya Nausheen Ahmed, Resident of Psychiatry, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.