A few days back, as I scrolled down my Facebook profile, the meme below caught my attention. A couple of my atheist friends had posted it and as expected, a wave of debates started in the comments’ section, on religion and atheism.
I did not jump in. Rather I pondered over the underlying message in the photo. As funny and sarcastic as the image might be, it was connected to the very crux of this article – counselling. Why would a child need an imaginary friend in the first place?
Timmy isn’t the only one who needs a friend, imaginary, in this case, to share his feelings. There are far too many people who don’t find it easy to open up about what is stressing them out every day. This leads to anxiety, and further, depression. Depression is more common than most people perceive it to be. In fact, we are all susceptible to depression at some point in our life, “we all” being the operative words.
According to the WHO, globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. By 2020, it is estimated to be the second leading disability worldwide. A study conducted in 2005 by the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, reported that nearly 5% of Indian population suffers from anxiety and depression. Eleven years after this report, one can only guess how large the number might be today.
The last decade saw some initiatives by the Government and NGOs to address the taboo around visiting a counsellor in the times of depression. In 2013, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) launched a campaign called ‘Life is Beautiful’, along with a 24×7 counselling helpline ‘Hitguj’. Deepika Padukone’s Live Love Laugh Foundation launched the #DobaraPoocho campaign in 2016, to help those with stress, anxiety, and depression. In popular culture, we had the recent Bollywood movie ‘Dear Zindagi’ depicting the tale of a young urban woman who seeks counselling to address stress.
Yet, even today, majority of our population sees counselling as a treatment meant only to address severe mental illnesses. This is despite the fact that mental disorders are common across the spectrum – in the working population, women and children, disaster survivors, and those suffering from chronic mental illness. The causes can range from relationship troubles and learning disorders to work stress and medical conditions. Most of these circumstances aggravate simply because we neglect stress and reach a breakpoint of depression. Women are more prone to depression than men owing to factors like gender discrimination, domestic violence and abuse.
The reasons for not seeking help are several – fear, embarrassment, lack of awareness, and the absence of trained counsellors are few of those, and it is critical we make it easier for those who suffer, to open up. However, we also need to understand that counselling is not an over-the-counter drug. It is a process where the counsellor helps you pause and introspect.
Today, several NGOs offer counselling services and dedicated suicide helplines. Some notable ones: Aasra, a crisis intervention center for the lonely, distressed and suicidal; Vandrevala Foundation, which aims to provide financial aid to those suffering from mental health issues, and YourDost, an online counselling and emotional support platform, that fosters mental wellness through free online chats.
Visiting a professional counsellor is certainly the right step towards combating depression. But a baby step could also be to reach out for emotional support to your loved ones. An open conversation over coffee or a midnight call sometimes works like magic to help cope with tough times.
So, listen, help, speak out. You just might help save a life.