India in its pursuit for a healthier society, has with time, done away with a lot of customs and traditions which were no longer serving its people. Our constitution strictly forbids all kinds of discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed, religion, and gender. More of our girl children are now receiving an education at par with their male counterparts.
People from different sects of society have started to eat and work together. Religious intolerance is slowly fading away. Years of negative social conditioning which implanted into our minds a thousand many misconceptions are starting to vanish. Although the sad part is the even after so much progress in how we think, the stigma surrounding mental health issues still remain with us.
When somebody, say, breaks a bone, they receive a lot of sympathy and care from their family and friends. Their physical pain is visible to all because of its tangible nature, and we try our best to mitigate their pains. However, if someone is struggling with a mental health issue and tells us of it, we try and explain to them how they just need a positive towards life.
“It is all in your mind!”
The World Health Organisation(WHO) reports that one in every five Indians has a tryst with depression at least once in their lifetime. The irony is that in a country like ours where such a big segment of the population has experienced depression first hand, people often shy away from admitting that they are suffering from the disorder. And why is that?
Because if they talk about it, they are more often than not, told that IT IS JUST IN THEIR MINDS!
But is it really just your mind?
Well, physiologically speaking, depression is indeed in our minds, for it is a disorder which interferes with the functioning of our brains. People with depression experience trouble in managing their emotions, and go through long spells of sadness. Although, it is a complete misconception that depression and sadness are just the same. Sadness is just one of the many symptoms of depression. Depression also slows down a person’s cognitive response, making it difficult for them to concentrate, learn new things and remember stuff. It also affects their sleep cycle and appetite. People either begin to sleep too much or too little. They either start eating too much or can barely stomach a morsel.
The stress response of a depressed person’s body is highly activated, and they may experience bouts of anxiety, palpitation, extreme chest pain, and utter bodily exhaustion. In the long run, it also causes severe damage to the vital organs of someone’s body.
What do the statistics tell us about depression?
According to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and a major contributor to the global burden of disease.
A 2017 WHO report also tells us that 7.5% of India’s population suffers with a mental disorder requiring expert intervention. About 56 million people in India suffer from depression. Also, more than 38 million people suffer from various forms of anxiety disorder.
The fear of ridicule
The young depressed person has now understood that they need help. But if they tell their parents about it, they will either be ridiculed or scolded. The parents are afraid that if someone gets to know that their son or daughter go to a psychiatrist, the society will label them as crazy.
The depressed person fails to explain to their classmates the crying spells they may have in the middle of a lecture. Their friends try to help, but they don’t know how to. A working person may feel afraid of admitting to his colleagues and bosses that they suffer from depression. They are afraid that they might get fired for the suffering they go through each day. There is little or no awareness about the laws which stand in protection of their rights. All this fear and feelings of guilt add to their depression, which is exactly the opposite of what we want for them.
After battling all the social misconceptions and the several resistances, the patient of depression finally makes it to the psychiatrist or the psychologist, depending on the demands of his condition. The doctor puts them on therapy, medicines, or a combination of both. This is when they need the most support and motivation. But people end up advising them to get off the pills, constantly trying to convince the patient that it is unnecessary.
“You should just stop worrying and be happy, you know.”
Well, this is not exactly how depression works. We need to understand that it is not a conscious choice, but a serious health condition. You wouldn’t advice someone taking pills for diabetes or high blood pressure to get off them, would you?
Suicide – The ultimate calamity
The basic instinct of any living species is survival. Depression in its severe form robs people of this natural desire to keep living on. A patient of major depression might, in the absence of proper medical intervention, lose their lives to the devil that depression is. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. This is a scary figure for a country whose workforce essentially comprises of the youth.
If a friend of ours confesses to us about having suicidal thoughts, we should take it seriously. Laughing it off or trying to distract your friend is not exactly the best way to go about it.
If you feel that you yourself are suffering emotionally and the low mood sticks around longer than it should, we recommend that you begin speaking up about it, and don’t feel ashamed of seeking help. We just need a shift in perspective here. If we start to look at it as the biochemical disorder it is and not some behavioural glitch which we must correct, things will get much easier.
A kind ear can save many lives. As a society, we need to remember this.
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Aprajita is a writer and editor who loves to play with animals. She hopes to publish her first novel sometime soon.