A few days ago, the Ministry of Health, India used its Twitter handle to talk about what depression is and how people could cope with it.
#Depression is a state of low mood that affects a person's thought, behaviour, feeling & sense of well-being. One must take up activities that keep him or her boosted in order to cope with depression. #SwasthaBharat #MentalHealth #LetsTalk pic.twitter.com/UJR3X7GwL2
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) June 26, 2018
The tweet kicked up a storm with criticism flying in from all sides. The tweet was called ignorant, myopic and downright insensitive to people who are suffering from depression. As I saw all the people rage over the tweet, I felt angry about the tweet as well. I decided that I needed to look into this and write on it. This is what made me actually look into everything that this tweet says about depression. Let us begin:
“Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, tendencies, feelings, and sense of well-being.”
This is the definition that the Ministry of Health, India used for depression. You know the funny thing? It is a word-by-word copy of the Wikipedia page for “Depression (Mood)”. You can check it out for yourself!
The situation is such that this is the page Wikipedia redirects to when people search “despair” or “hopelessness”. So apparently, the Health Ministry of India does not know the difference between depression-the mood and depression-the mental illness! It is something that so many of us don’t know and something that I have been trying to stress upon for more than a year. Now that I know that even our Health Ministry isn’t aware of this difference, it shows how far we still have to go. This is something I can offer no excuses over. It is wrong, plain and simple. I feel like I need to point out that every time I use ‘depression’ in this article I mean the illness, not the mood.
Along with this, our honourable Ministry also prepared 10 ways for people to cope with depression. Here I believe that they have been unduly criticised. There are many methods among the ones mentioned that actually have been correlated with lower reports of depressive symptoms.
Walking and yoga have been shown to reduce reporting of depressive symptoms. Although most studies are actually pretty inconclusive, it could be said that walking and yoga do help for mild cases of depression. There is correlation but no concrete causation. The story of travelling is a similar one as well.
A diet containing fruits and leafy vegetables has also been correlated with lower depressive symptoms but that is when compared with a diet of red meat, fast food and sugary liquids. Again, there has been a correlation but no causation has been confirmed yet.
The advice to sleep eight hours also has similar research backing it up. The people who sleep lower than seven or more than nine hours have had higher scores on depression inventories than people who sleep between seven to nine hours. Even the mention of multi-vitamin tablets, which I was aghast at in the beginning, has some scientific background. Vitamin group B plays a major role in health, with deficiencies being linked to symptoms of psychiatric disorders and depression.
Thinking positively, following a routine, keeping clean and being creative – these are my biggest problems with these suggested coping mechanisms. There is no study that says ‘being creative’ would decrease your chances of being depressed or help with your symptoms. In fact, there has been a positive correlation between the diagnosis of mental illnesses and creativity. This means that people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses are likely to be more creative than those who have not. There is no evidence that following a routine could help with your depression; it would turn you into a more punctual person and punctuality has no relation whatsoever with depression.
‘Keeping clean’ is the next one on my list. People who are depressed have been shown to have poorer hygiene. People who have poorer hygiene have not been shown to be more depressed. It is not the other way around. People who are organised or keep their hands clean don’t have lower levels of depression just because they soaked their hands in soap.
Now we come to the crowning star of this whole tweet – ‘thinking positively’. This is one of those pieces of advice that convince me that I need to work more to raise awareness on mental health. People who are clinically depressed have a hard time thinking positively. As soon as one positive thought comes to mind, it is overcrowded with thousands of negative and discouraging thoughts. It is discouraging and disappointing to see the Ministry of Health actually suggest this as a coping device.
The moment I found out that the definition quoted is that of a mood of depression and not the illness, I knew where the problem was. They suggested some good coping mechanisms but again, they would only work with mild depression at best. It would have been much better if they had included ‘visit a doctor’ or ‘talk to your close ones’ among these. It would have made this image much more accurate.
We use depression as a feeling so often that we forget that it is actually an illness. We have to now use terms like clinical depression to differentiate between the two when we should be aware of it. We have a long way to go. I have a lot of work to do and it seems like I don’t even have the Health Ministry alongside yet.
I won’t shy away from any of it. I will keep going and I will make sure that I can make people realise the difference between depression the mood and depression the illness.
This post was first published here.