Parag Mehta

My maternal grandmother was schizophrenic. She helped raised me and my siblings for more than two decades before she passed away in 2002. At the time her illness first surfaced, she was a 45-year-old divorcée and single mother living in Mumbai with her brother and his family. The understanding of her disease and how to treat it were very poor at that time. Her daughter (my mom) would grow up to be a general practitioner. Eventually, she was tapped to lead geriatric psychiatry at a Veterans Affairs Hospital in Central Texas. My mom's training in mental health made a tremendous difference for my grandmother. The right combination of medication and therapy gave her a better quality of life. Still, I spent years watching my grandmother talk to people who weren't there and relive painful experiences over and over again in her head. I had enormous sympathy for her and knew that she was just as deserving of love and respect as my other grandparents. In her most lucid moments, I think she knew what was happening to her. It must have been terrifying. When she passed away, I remember being simultaneously heart-broken and relieved that she would no longer be trapped in by her own thoughts. Thirteen years later, I had the privilege to serve as Chief of Staff to the United States Surgeon General, our nation's doctor. As our team began to plot the public health campaigns on which we wanted to focus, we came to a consensus around mental health and the importance of emotional well-being. We committed to addressing the stigma around mental illness, particularly in immigrant communities and in communities of color. And my first and most important thought was: I'm going to do this for Ranjan Ba.

© 2019 by MannMukti