In 1996, my cousin lost his battle with depression. I was a six-year-old boy, oblivious to the world. My reaction to all of this was to fill the courtyard wall with random scribbles with a piece of coal I found while everyone else was howling and weeping inside. I didn’t think much of it or care. My boredom got the best of me. However, it affected me subconsciously, which became evident when I experienced mild depression. (I am still in it).
I keep thinking of him and the day of his funeral for some reason though I didn’t know him very well while he was alive and I didn’t miss him when he was gone. I somehow seem to miss him most when I feel dejected. It is a fascinating exchange between the six-year-old boy and this 28-year-old man. There is a close link between his death and the time when I was old enough to realise that I may be suffering from mental illness myself.
I’m sure there are millions of people who share my experience. My empathy has its roots in my cousin’s actions 18 years ago, which in some strange way saved me from a similar fate. I still hear my relatives talk about him fondly and grieve over his death. They say, “He was really good in his studies. I don’t know why he committed such an act.” This reflects how society perceives someone who takes their own life.
In India, education shapes the life of every student and their parents. There is intense competition to be a reflection of society’s values. This puts tremendous pressure on a person and may lead someone to take their own life.
People seem to somehow forget about mental illness. It seems to have been wiped away from our society’s collective consciousness, which only seems to recognise physical scars.
Around 6% of Ladakh’s population is believed to be suffering from a mental disorder, and the rate of suicides continues to increase. This compelled the government to start a mental health programme.
Writer Andrew Solomon argues, “Depression is the result of a flaw in love.” He adds that a depressive feels that he/she sees the truth. However, the truth lies and makes him/her believe that there is nothing to live for anymore and that nothing matters. This is the breaking point of an individual, which we, as outsiders, fail to tap or understand.
The individual requires support from his/her immediate environment and people around them must be alert to various signs. These signs of depression are generally evident, but we often fail to acknowledge them. Sadly, in many cases, parents shy away from displaying affection, which is one of the most effective ways to combat depression. We need to remember two important things when we are helping someone suffering from depression. One, we must be alert for warning signs, and two, we need to be there for them, guide them, and be affectionate.
Recently, a young boy in my neighbourhood committed suicide, and this shook me up. He showed many signs of depression, especially after he stopped speaking with his friends four months ago. He stopped going out and meeting people. I live very close to his house and did not see him for a very long. I assumed that he was somewhere else until I got the news of his death.
This is a classic case of an individual silently enduring hell every day. I have still not come to terms with the fact that I would pass his house every day. I have played cricket with him in the past and never imagined that he was suffering from depression. And yet there he was, cooped up inside and dying slowly.
We urgently need to create awareness about this disease. Millions of people across the world suffer from depression, but little is known about it. There are many biases and stigma attached to depression other mental disorders. We need to ensure that a person who has a mental illness receives the same level of treatment as those suffering from a physical ailment.
Over the last few months and years, many high profile individuals around the world have taken their own lives after battling with depression. Mental disorders can be very scary, and they affect people of every age, caste, and creed.
I still slip in and out of depression. I have never dared to share this with anyone. This is the first time I have admitted it publicly. The sight of the boy’s lifeless body in my neighbourhood made me realise that I needed to do something. I decided that writing would be my first step.
This is a complex and difficult issue to understand. I overheard someone commenting, “Why did he do this! There are less fortunate people than him, and they don’t kill themselves.” This person was ignorant about mental disorders, but I don’t blame him/her. The comment reflects our general mindset and ignorance. Yes, there are a lot of poor people who face more hardship on a daily basis than this boy would face in his lifetime. However, we need to understand the subjective experience of happiness and variation in how people respond to expectations.
Depression is real. According to a 2018 World Health Organization report, about 800,000 people commit suicide due to depression every year. It is the second highest cause of death for people between 15 and 29 years of age.
We are passing through a very rough time in history with many youths dying in accidents that are unpredictable but avoidable. In contrast, mental disorders cast an invisible shadow in our lives, and it can only be addressed through awareness that leads people to seek treatment as one would for any disease. We must remember that mental disorders are a form of sickness and can be cured with treatment.
I know that many people are suffering from various mental disorders. This is my effort to reach out to them and tell them that they are not alone, that they are not forgotten or being ignored, that we have people in our lives, who want and cherish us.