INTERVIEW: Dr. Ramya Mohan, psychiatrist & artist
Dr. Ramya Mohan has unveiled her exhibition VISMAYAA: Discovering the artist within at The Nehru Centre in Mayfair. Her paintings combine her passion for the creative arts with her practice of neuroscience – that’s right; Mohan is a serious polymath, spending her time as both a Senior Consulting Psychiatrist by day and professional musician and artist by night. Mohan’s singular objective however is always to foster healthier mental well being in us all. The Metropolist sat down with her to find out how she marries two polar-opposite disciplines.
The Metropolist: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
Dr Ramya Mohan: I never thought I’d be a doctor because I’d always been very creatively inclined from a very young age. I was 5 when I got my first state-level (Dr. Mohan grew up in India) award for art and through my school and college years, I continued to get national awards for art and music. I thought I would follow either art or music as a career definitely, but as life would have it I started going down the road of medicine. My parents were always very supportive of my interest in the arts, but as a culture, as a society there is a certain level of expectation and achievement. So I ended up in Medicine. However, very soon I got frustrated with the number of exams and vast amounts of literature I had to read. Fortunately, I realised there was a human side, a creative side to medicine, and my patients taught me that watching my patients recover through the use of creativity made me want to stay in Medicine and explore that avenue.
TM: When did you find the opportunity to could combine the two disciplines?
RM: I was doing my psychiatry training. There was this little one, he was not talking at all, he was selectively mute and he was not attending school. I saw that he could use creativity as a mode of communication. The arts helped a child who was not communicating, to communicate in other ways and that was used to aid his recovery, to guide his diagnostic formulation and to support his access to educational.
TM: Did you ever seriously think about a professional creative career as an option?
RM: Oh, it was very much an option. I wanted to do up to the point I got into Medicine. Actually, just before I got into Medicine I was chosen to go to Republic Day by my state to do a marble art mural. I came first and I got the Prime Minister’s medal for it, it was incredible! But alongside that my academic grades were doing very well and I got a high score in my entrance exam. I love medicine, it’s part of who I am but the way of incorporating art and music into my career has been amazing.
TM: Was the timing of your exhibition launch during Mental Health Awareness Week a coincidence?
RM: We weren’t planning to do it, we were looking for some time in May and had fixed a few things and then we realised it would be perfect. It wasn’t fully planned but it worked out that way.
TM: Mental Health Week is such an important initiative, do you have any advice for carers or patients?
RM: We have so much more awareness of mental health than we had before, but we’ve still got a long way to go. It’s so important for us to not just support recovery once it manifests but it’s also very important to do what we can to prevent mental illness. We need to broadening our perspectives and see how we can use creativity and the creative arts as a way of supporting and exploring parts of the brain. That’s certainly what my research was about.
We looked at the impact of emotions on the brain and the impact of music on the brain. I found that the areas of the brain that light up with the emotional processing were very much in line with areas of the brain with listening to a musical piece or admiring an artwork. Everything is pleasurable and rewarding from the creative side. However that same part of the brain works with some difficult emotions. I’ve developed a therapeutic technique called CAPE, which uses music as a therapeutic technique for emotional processing.
Creative arts can be used as a prevention against mental illness. People have opened up to mindfulness and yoga as preventative tools, why should the creative arts be left behind when we know the powerful effect they can have?
TM: How have you managed to balance these two careers you are developing?
RM: I don’t watch much TV and I don’t sleep! It all happens after the kids are fed and in bed and that’s when I pick up some to research or I might just pick up the paintbrush and dabble.
TM: How are you perceived within and across the two professions?
RM: In the NHS we work so strictly with guidelines, all these tight ‘this is the way things have to be’ rules. At the same time there was always this thing that because I was a medic and doctor, could I really be taken seriously as an artist? I’m trained in both art and music, I perform and I exhibit, but would I be taken seriously because of my day job? But the amazing thing has been that everyone has been so incredibly supportive. The artists come in and tell me: “oh, it’s wonderful you’re doing that, we need more of science to support and validate what we are doing”. It’s the same with the medics; they are incredibly fascinated and curious about what’s going on.