Do you say you’re okay when you’re not? You’re not the only one. At times, you don’t want to bother the next person or simply don’t have the time to get into it. You don’t need an expert to tell you that, before you know it, the mind can enter a dark and scary place. Which is why it makes perfect sense that the theme for World Health Day this year is Depression—Let’s Talk.
A colleague recently met an acquaintance, who lost her estranged husband to suicide. She wondered aloud if he had done the right thing. Single for a long time, a caregiver to her mother, with her siblings “settled” in marriages, she didn’t think she had much left to look forward to. He advised her to see a counsellor. As we talked about her, my colleague and I realised the milestones we feel subconsciously pressed to meet—marriage, kids, a house, a healthy bank balance—even though around us, the template for what constitutes a perfect life crumbles. But, what do you do with the template that is imprinted in our minds? Well, for starters, let’s talk about it and realise that perhaps, we’re all trying to do our best to stay afloat. The constant comparisons that take place with social media shares don’t exactly help.
But when is it really depression and when just being overwhelmed with life? And isn’t a little suffering a necessary part of the rigour of life? Psychiatrist Shyam Bhat in a blog post titled, The Death of a Buddha, imagines a scenario where a modern day psychiatrist is transported to ancient India, where he has to counsel a young Siddhartha Gautama and his distraught wife, who he plans to desert for his spiritual quest. As he offers medication that will help him sleep better and feel less troubled by existential dilemmas, he wonders if “one man’s suffering is another man’s spiritual transformation”.
In the world we live in, stress is a natural fallout. An increasing number of people living in urban India, Bhat tells us, are feeling significant stress, in some studies as high as 40-50 per cent. “Stress is, of course, a risk factor for depression and decreases the quality of life and, therefore, everyone living in urban India should lead some stress management activities and skills. So how do we know if we’re depressed and not just going through something that we hope may eventually wear off? Bhat tells us, “If a low mood persists for nearly every day most of the day for two weeks or longer, along with a decreased enjoyment or interest in doing previously enjoyable activities, then it is quite likely to be clinical depression as opposed to a passing sadness.”
Matt Haig writes in the book Reasons to Stay Alive that depression is hard to understand, since it’s invisible. “At its worst you find yourself wishing, desperately, for any other affliction, any physical pain, because the mind is infinite, and its torments—when they happen, can be equally infinite. You can be a depressive and be happy, just as you can be a sober alcoholic. It doesn’t always have an obvious cause. It can affect people—millionaires, people with good hair, happily married people, people who have just landed a promotion, people who can tap dance and do card tricks and strum a guitar, people who have no noticeable pores, people who exude happiness in their status updates—who seem, from the outside, to have no reason to be miserable. It is mysterious even to those who suffer from it.”
Authentic human connections, Bhat emphasises, help prevent depression. Make time every day to connect with family and friends, he recommends. The need to nurture real relationships is all the more important in the age of social media. It’s easy to fall in the habit of using and accepting being “busy” as an excuse for putting off meeting or having a conversation with a friend or family member. Recently, when a childhood friend came from out of town, she said she’d understand if I was too busy to meet up. I could’ve left it that, but decided to go and didn’t regret it, since there are bits of us that only those who’ve shared our past can connect with. And who’s to stop us from making new connections? It’s probably the only thing keeping us sane.
So, let’s talk. There’s usually someone who’s ready to listen. And, if you’re currently battling depression, Matt Haig holds out hope on his blog, “Minds have their own weather systems. You are in a hurricane. Hurricanes run out of energy eventually. Hold on. …Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”
(The writer is an editorial consultant and co-founder of The Goodwill Project. She tweets @anuvee) Views expressed are personal.