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This is a piece I wrote for The Pioneer, New Delhi. Though nothing is ‘new’ about my thoughts anymore and what I write and say is expected 🙂
Original article is published HERE do leave your comments on the site’s post if you could.
Depression affects all ages & walks of life. It causes mental anguish and hits one’s ability to carry out simple tasks with devastating consequences. Depression can lead to suicide, the second highest cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. RESHMA VALLIAPPAN talks about the issue on the occasion of World Health Day which is themed on this affliction this year
When I first met M, I saw a reflection of me in him. He came across as reserved, rebellious and unbothered by what people said of him. This was, of course, a surface level mask he presented, much like many other youth swimming between their child and adult self. When M attempted suicide, I was called to intervene as he would only listen to me. A social worker I knew called his behaviour “attention seeking” and asked me to be careful as he would keep repeating it since he knew I could be beckoned through self-destructive acts he presented.
I agreed and watched out for his emotional tricks, but it only lasted 20 minutes. This was because I was in the same place M was in as a teenager. I could relate to what he was trying to communicate through his emotional tricks and focussed on what he was not saying. He was definitely trying to get attention not because he had nothing else to do in life but much like the rest of the world, M couldn’t find a way to communicate his feelings and need for emotional security since the world around us stops us from doing so.
M is no different than other people, whether they have the label and experience of depression or not. The more civilised our world gets, the more emotionally distant we become of what our heart needs and wants. It is predicted by WHO that 36 per cent of India’s population is struck by Depression. Depression is often called the silent killer, like diabetes equating it to the latter as a medical problem that has to be treated and controlled.
There are different forms of depression and a list of symptoms one can watch out for to prevent depression complications. All of us feel sad, lonely, aimless, helpless and even hopeless. These are natural reactions to grief, loss and an injured heart. It is when these emotions become overwhelming, begin affecting our routine and functioning, that clinical depression becomes the label to our condition and our first contact for help is a medical practitioner or psychiatrist.
The Government has accepted depression as a serious mental health problem that needs to be addressed. In the past three years, there have many organisations and groups addressing this silent epidemic. There is also the alternative school or remedies which include Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Yoga, Meditation, Reiki or energy healing, Acupuncture, Body Movement, Tantra, Shamanism, Chanting, Martial Arts, Dance and other art-based therapies but very few credible practitioners that can work with an individual having Depression or another ‘mental illness’.
The problem here is that many from the latter group are not known or validated for their methods since the identifying markers in alternative medicine and thought differ from the conventional school of medicine and living. The conventional school is about fast fixes much like all our lives; fast food, fast thoughts, fast gains.
As an Asian nation, we need to know that psychiatry and psychology were born in Germany where the treatments, diagnosis, prognosis and even alternative methods come from a Western mind-set and structure of how illnesses and lifestyles are seen. There is a huge cultural, social, political, medical, religious, spiritual, economical, biological and familial mishmash going on since, as Indians, we are trapped between the Western and Eastern cultures. The youth are caught in having to live American dreams and chase Western norms and yet being respectful or true to their Indian roots and traditions which is confusing, contradictory, often even hypocritical way of living and thinking.
Unfortunately, this hypocritical way can be seen in all our lives and families. Individuals make families, families make societies and societies make communities and nations. This is not to say our families are at fault. Our growing civilized identities are at fault. We are still recovering from 200 years of colonialism and patriarchy and in doing so the youth of this country is constantly shuffling between many identities and they don’t often know which one to call ‘Me’.
The stigma here is not that depression is a ‘disease’. Mental health advocates use the term “mental discomfort” instead, which means we understand and know there is an experience of something overwhelming which has been given the label of depression but we don’t necessarily accept or call it an illness that requires treatment in the conventional way.
The difference between a mental discomfort that disables us as opposed to physical disabilities is the invisibility of our discomfort. As a society, we don’t tell a blind person ‘Open your eyes, you’re not blind’. We don’t tell a person using a wheelchair ‘Oh you should try standing and your legs might work’. This is because we don’t have a choice to not see their blindness or limbic limitations.
However, we do tell a person having depression to ‘Buckle up, stop this nonsense, get focused, do something, you’re wasting your life…’ As a society, we are blinder than the blind since we need to ‘see’ something in order to believe it exists. This is because we have a choice here to not see someone else’s failing heart and emotion as it reflects us and looking in the mirror is something painful.
We need to fall so low and so helpless that those who we love and care for us can then open their eyes to see that we need their attention. It would be easier if our lives and the people around us let us say: ‘Hey, I want your attention because I feel unloved’. But we don’t do that despite this being what 1.21 billion hearts are asking for.
I see depression as the side-effect to a sudden rise in empowerment gone un-channelled. There are many mental health professionals and doctors who’ve pointed out the same only using different words that of: A faulty idea of what success means and in that chase the stress shows as anxiety and the inability to act on what is received becomes depression. The stress of living is what is causing depression, when living should be a wonderful journey.
I consider depression a very valuable guide. In fact, what is wrong if we experience depression? Why must it be something we need to fix or get rid of? We don’t say the same about cancer. We allow someone with cancer to choose if they would like to extend their lives with chemotherapy or to live their few months without it. So even when we are making medical comparisons we are doing it blindly.
Depression can be dealt with and we can reach our healing if we choose to be honest to who we are and we stop living lives filled with lies. When we begin accepting ourselves and, consequently, others. Perhaps the real question we must ask about depression is: What is it that we really want? We might find the answer in the ability to hug someone and just hold them. We might find ourselves opening our hearts and minds to listen intently without judging. We might accept that depression, just like other human conditions and suffering, is one part of our journey and it is okay for it to exist. We might find that this depression is changing us and it’s not something we need to fear since growth can only happen when we decide to change ourselves.
Maybe, depression isn’t something as dark and dramatic being presented over the decades. But it is a natural reaction to life stressors forcing us to wake up and do something about our lives that makes it purposeful. How do we choose to accept any human condition of suffering and pain is what points us towards our true healing. But the next question this poses to us as a nation is: Are we ready for it?