One of India's greatest tragedies is our collective ignorance and stigma towards mental health. Whether it be how to comfort someone who is suffering from a particular mental illness, a basic understanding of what exactly 'depression' or 'anxiety' means, or simply acknowledging that these are just as serious as any disease you can catch, we as a country have a long way to go. We need to move past the outdated belief that anyone who visits a psychiatrist is simply ‘crazy.’ The worst part is many times, people live with depression, not knowing of its very existence or that it could affect anyone- even YOU!
Much to my distaste, it is only when some prominent figure is failed by this ignorance and chooses to end his/her life that we decide we care about it for a week. During such times, we have many people who are unaware of the concept, consider it hilarious, or perhaps a mixture of both.
People afflicted by such mental illnesses not only suffer internally, but such conditions often manifest in potentially destructive ways, such as severing relationships with loved ones, loss of productivity, or complete breakdowns.
In this blog, I hope to do away with some common misconceptions about depression, in particular, that are prevalent in our society. Perhaps you can support those around you and even take care of yourself better.
What is depression?
Despite popular belief, depression is not the same as feeling sad. Shocker! When your mom scolds you, your favorite shirt is ruined, or the Indian cricket team loses, you might feel sadness- a temporary negative emotion in response to some event that you didn't want to happen (to put it very simply).
Now imagine that all of these things are happening on a daily basis. Still, your mother doesn't come to comfort you later, you'll never be able to buy another shirt and that the team disbands forever. On top of that, you feel as if no one understands why all of this makes you so intensely sad, leaving you with a sense of hopelessness that seems unending... as if you are underwater, trying to call for help. Still, no one can hear your cries for aid. This constant feeling of drowning is what I would use to describe depression.
If this sounds irrational, illogical, or that the example jumped and escalated quickly, that's often how it is. Depression doesn't play by the rules that we are accustomed to. Merely thinking positively is not a viable solution when your brain is actively denying all your rational thoughts and attempts at positivity. So, remember that just telling someone to 'cheer up' is quite honestly one of the most insensitive things you can do. If you tell a house on fire to stop burning, it won't do anything. Comfort and acceptance are necessary. Let them feel that their emotions are valid, normal, and especially, temporary.
How to recognize if you or a loved one is depressed
· A drastic shift in behavior (even increased irritability or anger)
· Choosing to remain detached from others (fewer interactions than before)
· Preferring seclusion in one's own room or private place
· A general sense that no one can comprehend your emotions or feelings
· A sense of aimlessness or feeling as if you are stuck in place, unable to move forward
· Feeling numb to things around you or a general sense of apathy (as if you don't care about anything around you)
· In some cases, seeming absolutely fine when in public with friends/family/at school/work but feeling horrible when alone.
What to do if you relate with these points
1. Acknowledge that you are suffering.
Without this step, the rest is useless, and you will continue to suffer. We often try to rationalize ourselves as completely fine or 'too strong to be depressed,' but this mindset will just keep you stuck in place.
2. Realize that it is not unending.
Like with any other illness, you can treat it, whether that be through your own actions or professional help. It is not permanent.
3. Reach out to someone!
This takes immense effort, but overcoming the feeling that no one cares is one of the first steps to healing. Talk with someone who cares about you: a friend, a family member, a teacher, anyone! You will feel a massive load off of your shoulders by talking about it. A psychologist would be the best person to talk to. However, I certainly understand the stigma around it, and perhaps baby steps are best at first.
4. Be patient.
Unlike conventional illnesses, this is not something that can be treated with a 3-day dose of antibiotics. This is a continuous process that honestly, requires effort. Nothing comes easy, but always remember you absolutely can rely on your loved ones for support.
To sign off, I look towards a brighter future of mental health awareness in our country. Indeed, it can only progress when we- the upcoming generation acknowledge its existence and treat it with the seriousness it requires and do not simply brush it aside as today's society does. I hope to see a day when people of all ages can talk about their emotions without fear of judgement and be accepted as perfectly normal human beings.