I believe that the scenario of mental health awareness in India is much better than it was some seven or eight years back. Depression and mental health are finally being recognised by celebrities and public figures – Deepika Padukone, the founder of The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLF), being a prime example. Some of them have even opened up and provided first-person accounts of their struggles with depression.
While I feel that there have been many generic discussions on the topic of depression, here I would like to focus on the issue of perceptions of mental health and depression.
I had shown signs of mild depression even when I was a student. Even while suffering from this, I fulfilled the roles of a daughter, friend, classmate and student.
During this time, only one friend (whose boyfriend was a psychologist) expressed concern about my well being. It’s not that I had stopped eating or studying. It was just that I had started suffering from a lack of concentration and I was really worried about that.
Most importantly, I took to smoking. I felt ashamed whenever I smoked, because I really didn’t want to. However, those days, I used to feel that smoking was my only escape. Whenever I could hide from the world, I would smoke a minimum of three cigarettes.
I questioned myself and tried to understand what had changed over the year. I used to recall that only a year back, I used to try to stop my friends from smoking. I constantly asked myself what was happening to me and why I felt that my life was worthless, whenever I was alone.
I was lucky to have found some beautiful friends and a philosophy, which started pulling me out of my depression. But, somewhere, I felt that I wasn’t fully healed. When I googled the cause for everything I was going through, I realised that I may have been suffering from depression. Surely, I could not fall into depression, right! If I was, then how was I studying, eating and being a friend and daughter – all at the same time? I immediately shut my laptop and brushed the possibility aside.
Rain ☔️ Inspired by a series of artists' portrayal of what #depression looks like. I'm sure most of us have…
Another year down the line, I got a job and moved to a city where I suddenly found myself all alone. Moreover, this experience proved to completely different from the five years I had spent away from my home and parents.
I was now an adult, but I had no friends to lean on to in a city which was completely alien to me. Here, I was hit by another bout of depression. I used to be on top of my game at work, where I used to laugh and talk with my colleagues every day. However, in the evenings, I would sit quietly in my room and stare at the room’s ceiling for long hours.
Gradually, I lost interest in reading, writing and other activities. I used to eat only when there was a dire need to or when I went out. Cooking also became too big a chore for me. It was around this time that I also sought help for the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) I was suffering from. However, I was still in denial of depression.
I could only come out of my depression through prolonged and consistent efforts at a spiritual level. I also had to take homeopathic medicines. Even then, I wasn’t able to realise the magnitude of the struggle I went through.
Today, I can say that I am completely okay but, it has taken my acceptance, understanding and efforts to not succumb. Of course, there are days when I find myself in a low, but, I am now able to bounce back.
The reason why I decided to share my story is to highlight a few important things about depression and mental health. The first point concerns the demystification of depression. When one talks about depression, one usually associates it with something as blatant as madness or something akin to a disability or dysfunctionality. These are the reasons why I denied that I was suffering from depression. The taboos of societal perception of depression made me fear being looked down upon or being non-functional in society. Since my case was a mild one, I chose not to think about it. I cannot imagine what someone with a major bout of depression might go through.
The second topic that I want to talk about concerns what is known as high-functioning depression. I came across this phrase only when I was out of the pits. In my opinion, people suffering from ‘high-functioning depression’ are more prone to danger, because of society’s lack of acceptance and their own lack of an understanding of depression. I feel this is very dangerous because it bottles up issues (which should be addressed) due to misconceptions or shame. Over time, these bottled-up issues can turn into ticking bombs!
In order to resolve a problem or to cure an illness, diagnosis is the first step. Even in cases of severe depression, the first step towards healing is recognising and accepting the reality of depression. Of course, the victim has to struggle a lot with such a realisation, especially given the lack of medical professionals who understand depression and are able to treat it.
However, I feel that there have many discussions on these topics. The reason why I chose to speak about high-functioning depression is because it is a topic that is rarely discussed, but is regularly affecting more Indian youths like me.
I say this because when I was going through the phase, I did not recognise and identify what I was going through. A lot of my symptoms would show in spurts on a much lower scale. Back then, I used to feel that it was just another struggle in my life, and that was all! During the days when I used to really low, my mind would only interpret it as one of those days on which I would have to struggle through, trying to find a ray of hope.
The gravity of it all struck me when I shared a little of my past struggles with a friend and colleague of mine, over lunch. After listening to me wide-eyed, he responded with a tone of surprise, saying that he could not believe what I was going through, while being an excellent worker and interacting normally with my colleagues.
In retrospect, I think the other factor that contributes to this not being recognised is the depravity perpetrated by social media and other means of communication. I am not against technology or the amazing facilities of Skype or Twitter. However, excess of anything is harmful. This is also true in the case of social media and other means of communication.
Today, in the bigger cities, people tend to stay in offices during the week and then hang out with friends or stay in their homes during the weekend. In such a setup, face-to-face conversations are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Friends now mainly talk over WhatsApp or Facebook. Every social outing is checked in on Facebook and then posted on Instagram.
With such a culture and the increased migration of youths to big cities (for work) – possibly without friends or families at close hand – social media turns out to be the sole means of communication in many cases. With time, social media has become more linked with instant gratification and happiness, which fizzles once the phone or app is switched off.
It is no wonder therefore that people with depression isolate themselves even further when they see people posting happy-making pictures on social media. For me, it was easier to be proficient at my work, because I didn’t have to divulge my worries and emotional issues to the people around.
I think it is important is to not brush off people’s worries or emotions as nothing. In fact, such an attitude only decreases the self-respect of such people. Getting brushed off by a friend or a senior can only increase the sense of isolation and self-hatred in victims of depression, which can spiral even further.
One also needs to be aware of issues concerning mental health to recognise people who are silently suffering from depression. I would urge all readers to read up on depression and not base your perceptions on what you see in films or hear from other people.
Generally, we tend to normalise depression in a manner that belittles the victim. On the other hand, we also portray depression as a horror that one should be excessively aware of. I think both perceptions are equally damaging. The more informed we are about depression, the more we will able to help people cope up with depression, and also demystify it in the process.