The shocking news of the loss of our dear friend Dr. Akash Acharya arrived yesterday. I confess that my eyes teared up and I have needed more than an entire day to calm myself. It is my hope that this note will help us all -in some small way, at the least.
Akash faced severe stuttering with his intellectual might and with his sense of humor. His curiosity was obvious from our very first conversations back in the early 1990s. He was the kind of person who would pick up books, read them, and then discuss the ideas from those books with everyone. In this way, he educated not only himself but others around him as well.
His sense of humor evolved and became refined as he interacted with professionals in his field over the last two decades. We exchanged several emails developing disclosure strategies for use during his presentations. (A few examples are at the end of this note. It does take courage to use them, of course.)
Much like anyone who has stuttering, Akash constantly thought about and pursued ways to improve his speech and himself. The last video I saw of him was remarkable for his fluency and he was doing good work as well. However, one can never guess what another person’s private thoughts are. And so we will never know how Akash’s illness of depression led him to an unfortunate path. (As someone who suffers from major depression, I can tell you that depression can be very overpowering.) I pray for Akash’s soul and that God give his family the courage to face this event.
If I may be allowed, I would like to offer some unsolicited guidance regarding stuttering and depression in this note. I hope that my observations may help some of you, if not all of you.
Stuttering: We all know that as of now, there is no cure for this condition. It may increase, decrease, or even disappear over time. So here are the four things I recommend for anyone who has a stutter. 1) Learn some techniques to produce fluent speech such as easy onset, prolongation, etc. Know that these techniques will not work every time and that the one’s speech will always have some stuttering. 2) Learn some ways to get out of stuttering when it does occur. Consider techniques such as slow bounces, pull-outs etc. Again, know that these techniques will not work every time. 3) Given that one may not be able to always produce fluent speech or control stuttering, use disclosure to your advantage. Acknowledge that you stutter and put your communication partners and yourself at ease. 4) Finally, accept that stuttering is present and it is not going away, so let it be. Instead, and most important, focus on other aspects of life such as your career, your family, and your hobbies etc.
Depression: Like stuttering, depression may increase, decrease, or disappear over one’s lifetime. If you know someone who needs help, then know that there are ways to help. The two indispensable parts of treatment of depression are 1) medicine and 2) cognitive behavior therapy. Note that just as not all techniques in stuttering work equally well, not all medicines work equally well either. One may have to try a few different types of medicines to determine which one helps the most. In the same manner, one may not benefit from working with a certain psychotherapist/counsellors. One must work with two or more therapists to figure out who can help one the most.
Examples of use of humor that Akash and I developed are as follows.
“I am Manish and I stutter. Often I stutter really good but other times I do not do it very well. If you cannot follow me, let me know and I will be happy to stutter some more!”
“I stutter when I am excited and this party/conference is exciting, so I might be stuttering a lot today.”
“Please ask any questions you all may have. I do not pity my stuttering and neither should you!”
“Please ask questions you may have, that will also allow me to demonstrate some more of my great stuttering.”
RIP dear Akash, you will be missed.
With deepest sympathy,
Manish K. Rami, Ph.D.
Prof. & Chair, Communication Sciences & Disorders
University of North Dakota