You feel listless sitting in a room full of people, unable to make sense of all that is going on around you. While there is a general air of merry and mirth, you feel numb. And this listlessness is not just about that one day or that particular hour, it has been there for a while now, slowly claiming a large part of your mind and personality.
Depression is a common condition among a sizeable number of people today. The symptoms of depression are not universal or same across all cases. They manifest in umpteen number of different ways—from racing thoughts of despair drowned in negativity to self-loathing, from long episodes of inactivity and dormancy to instances of sudden high functioning (only to exhaust oneself eventually), from not being able to manage the most trivial and basic of tasks to not being able to think clearly because of clutter in the mind, from imagining the impossible (and sometimes believing it to be true) to losing a fair sense of judgment. Depression is an all-engulfing condition, and there is no pre-decided list of signs that indicate that one has been inflicted by it.
It is very common for depression to be mistaken as general “sadness,” a “gloomy phase” or “melancholy.” It takes a while to put a finger on the problem and to recognise that a person is suffering from a clinical condition that requires seeing a doctor.
There is also a lot of stigma attached to seeing a doctor or counsellor for one’s mental health. Social conditioning and societal norms make one believe that going to a mental health practitioner means one is “mad” or “crazy.” Owing to the fear of tainting one’s reputation (that our society is obsessed with), people talk about mental health in hushed tones or do not talk about it at all, often leaving the affected individual in isolation.
Apart from the social stigma around talking about mental health, there is also shame attached to taking medication for one’s mental health. Just as one would consume medicines in case of a high fever or any other physiological disorder, taking medicines does become necessary in critical cases of depression and other mental health conditions. These medicines, when taken as per the dosage prescribed by the psychiatrist, are like any other prescribed medication and supplement the healing process as well as assist one in recovery. Often, friends and family, even with the best intentions, are not able to gauge the depth of the person’s condition and end up making suggestions, such as “be positive,” “snap out of it,” “this is just a phase,” “get over it” etc. But there is a lot more that can be done to extend a helping hand to someone dealing with depression. When the most basic tasks seem complicated and overwhelming to an individual, loved ones and caregivers can do their bit by reaching out to the one affected without waiting for a call for help, because even asking for help may seem too difficult for the individual. Small things like helping them do their laundry, cooking a meal, doing the dishes can go a long way in making the person feel cared for. Lending an ear whenever the individual wants to talk is definitely what is ideal, but at times just sharing the space in silence, creating a safe space for them helps a lot.
Being non-judgmental is an important value that all of us need to inculcate in ourselves to be able to coexist with others in harmony. Creation of safe spaces includes being non-judgmental, so that an affected friend or loved one can safely express themselves and be at ease without being seen as a nuisance and where they can share information knowing that it is safe with the listener.
We now hear of several initiatives that have been taken by various non-governmental organisations to help individuals with fragile mental health. iCALL is a helpline that provides telephonic counselling and internet-based support for improving mental health and well being and also during times of distress for individuals as well as the community; Good Samaritans, Mumbai is another non-governmental step towards extending aid through calls and emails for those who are depressed. However, there is a dire need for sensitising and training immediate caregivers so that affected persons are treated with utmost empathy instead of pity, impatience and judgment.
The road to recovery for an individual begins with the acceptance of what they are going through and not living in denial. While depression becomes a part of the individual affected by it and they are mindful of this, their personality is not defined by it. The individual is always greater than the malady.
The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect the collective view from the journal.