Free Press Journal

 Depression: That sinking feeling…

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SUREKHA KADAPA-BOSE says that depression in India is increasing by the day and one should not ignore it.

Just a couple of months back Hindi film actor Deepika Padukone was all over the news and social media. Not because she was doing press publicity for her latest release but due to her surprise confession: “I woke up one morning just feeling empty …like this pittish feeling in my stomach … I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what to do and I had these bouts of feeling so low that I would just start crying… There were days when I would feel okay, but at times, within a day, there was a roller-coaster of feelings. I thought it was stress, so I tried to distract myself by focusing on work, and surrounding myself with people, which helped for a while. But the nagging feeling didn’t go away….over a period of time, it got worse…”

As Ridhima Sahani, 29, heard Padukone’s interview on a popular news channel, where she laid bare details of how she battled clinical depression for nearly a year, the Gurgaon-based IT professional felt a sense of kinship with the celebrity. After all, the feelings she was describing were not alien to her. “I, too, have dealt with thoughts of emptiness and isolation for some time now. I live away from my family, which is in Lucknow, and sometimes it’s very difficult to deal with the overwhelming feeling of being all alone. Work is really competitive and often I am under tremendous pressure to meet deadlines that I want to simply give up everything. The fact that my immediate senior takes particular pleasure in pointing out the flaws in my work in front of the whole team is humiliating,” she reveals.


Much like Padukone, Sahani realised that something was not right with her when she didn’t feel like getting up to go to work, wanted to stay away from her friends and would tear up while still at work for no reason whatsoever. “I thought I was going out of my mind. Each day used to be filled with dread, fear and regret. And yet, this was my own personal hell; I couldn’t get myself to share it with anyone,” she adds.

One afternoon, when the young professional was visiting the nearby hospital for some routine test, she happened to walk past the resident psychologist’s office. On impulse, she picked up his card. “Yet, it was several days before I could get myself to call and fix up an appointment. Even today, not many are comfortable admitting to the fact that they need help to sort out their mind. But I think I took the right decision. These days, I am under treatment and feel better. Even so, I have not talked about this with my friends or colleagues due to the stigma associated with mental health issues,” she points out.

Be it celebrities, who spend their life under the spotlight, or ordinary women like Sahani, no one in today’s time is really immune from getting that sinking feeling. It particularly creeps up on busy urbanites, who live away from their family, which is a person’s primary emotional support system. According to media reports, some estimates suggest that at least one-in-five women and one-in-10 men suffer from a major depressive disorder during their lifetime. In fact, as per the World Health Organization (WHO), India tops the list of depressed people in the world, with 36 per cent suffering from Major Depressive Episode characterised by sadness, low self worth and disturbed sleep.

Some do seek medical help although the majority just endures it in silence, often with devastating outcomes. When Kirthi Desai, a Mumbai resident and the younger of two sisters, lost her father to a terminal illness she was only 22. Whereas everyone in the family was grieving the loss, this university student seemed to take the news in her stride.

“When he was diagnosed the doctors had told us that his chances of survival were not too good. I tried to be as ‘normal’ as I could. In fact, the day he passed away I was away to college to give a mid-term paper.” Her mother and sister were devastated and automatically became each other’s support system; Desai, on the other hand, felt she was on her own. “My older sister is closer to my mother and they both thought that I was ‘okay’ and much stronger. The reality was that I was in shock and didn’t know how to process this change,” she reveals.

It was much later that Desai’s mother started noticing changes in her daughter’s behaviour – “she would get angry at the slightest of provocation, she didn’t want to go out with her friends anymore and she started having a lot of hair fall”. The youngster was lonely and depressed but she did not want to admit it. “When I finally went to seek treatment for my hair loss, the doctor suggested that visit a psychologist as well. She told me that I was not happy and that I needed to deal with my anger issues if I wanted to feel healthy again. I have been going to a counsellor for some time but it’s a well kept secret even within my own extended family,” she elaborates.

Truth is that the stigma surrounding those battling mental health disorders is not a new phenomenon in India. However, as more and more matinee idols open up about their personal traumas – before Padukone, superstar Shah Rukh Khan also talked about the time he “got into a depression mode” after his shoulder injury – the discussion on depression may slowly enter the public domain.

During his television appearance with Padukone, Dr Shyam K. Bhat, psychiatrist and Integrative Medicine specialist in Bengaluru, who has treated the actor, talked about how “depression is a lonely, isolating, private condition that a person cannot even share in our country… if we don’t start learning how to prevent this to treat this, we are [going to be] in a huge problem in the coming 10-12 years. If we continue to face stigma, we will have an epidemic”.

Mumbai-based psychologist Dr Harish Shetty adds, “It’s unfortunate that the public at large fails to understand the problems of the depressed or sympathise with them. Celebrities face the same pressures as any other individual, be it a professional or a homemaker. Perhaps their statements will eventually lead to a change in this apathetic attitude.”

Anxiety and depressive conditions are among the most common psychiatric disorders in the world and both afflict women more than men. Doctors list sadness, tension, irritability, the lack of energy, inability to concentrate and low appetite as among the key symptoms of depression. Dr Mathew Varghese, Professor and Head, Dept. of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, adds, “Women, both young adults in their reproductive age group and older ones, who are jobless and come from poor socio economic conditions, are at risk of falling into depression. Apart from them, women who are single, widowed or divorced are extremely vulnerable as well.”

Once someone is in the throes of depression, it affects every aspect of their life – be it work or relationships. What’s important is to be able to seek help on time and not when things have gone out of hand. Dr Shetty though concedes that most patients reach out for medical assistance as the last resort “and that is not at all desirable”. For all those who are hesitant to go to an expert, Dr Varghese has some sound advice, “All depression must be evaluated by a psychiatrist or a competent physician and treated with drugs and therapy. If the symptoms continue for two weeks or more, you definitely need a professional’s help.”

(Names of women quoted have been changed to protect their identity.)

ARE YOU DEPRESSED?

Dr Mathew Varghese’s checklist –

  1. Persistent sadness
  2. Feeling of hopelessness, pessimism, low self worth
  3. Loss of interest in fun activities, hobbies
  4. Disturbed or interrupted sleep
  5. Loss of appetite or sudden changes in weight
  6. Decreased energy and constant fatigue
  7. Extreme negative thoughts of death or suicide

However, the point to be kept in mind is that these symptoms should be persistent for at lease two weeks.

DISTRESS CALL

For those who need help, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai has created a special helpline – icall. Pick up the phone and dial – 022-25563291