Rajeshwari Kalyanam speaks to mental health experts on depression and what to do if you see signs of it in your friends
Fighting the Inner Demon: How to Deal with Depression
The WHO predicts that the lockdown will unleash a pandemic of mental health conditions. Studies have shown that loneliness and isolation due to the lockdown have worsened the psychological stateq of those already depressed. Panic attacks and inability to access prescribed medication on time have only added to it as seen on some posts on social media.
It was on June 14, 2020, that Hindi film actor Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide. The 34-year-old was a self-made actor with around 10 films, out of which at least three were massive hits, especially the MS Dhoni biopic, taking him straight into the hearts of his fans. But, just like that, one fine day, he decided he did not want to live anymore and killed himself. And it was revealed that he was under depression which was one of the causes according to reports.
‘Depression’, a word that is often used with such careless abandon in everyday life has ominous implications, often ignored, and it only comes into public discourse when either a celebrity confesses, he or she is or was depressed or when a well-known person kills himself. Even during such a time, the discussion almost always steers towards immediate triggers and the condition itself ceases to be important. No wonder, in this country, we continue to be plagued with misinformation; and depression, as a medical condition, continues to be a taboo subject, with many hesitating to either acknowledge it or seek help.
Lockdown and depression
What’s more, with extended lockdowns and the uncertainty that has crept into our lives and the bad news that the virus keeps bringing our way, cases of anxiety and depression have doubled say psychologists and psychiatrists in the city. Psychologist Kosuru Sangeetha Gowda says, “Corona has added to anxiety levels. Depression has gone to a completely new level. Social life has been completely cut down. And the avenues to deal with anxieties like hanging out with friends and doing things you are passionate about are no longer an option. Technology cannot replace human interactions. My analysis is that even in the case of Sushant, who was allegedly taking medication for clinical depression, the lockdown must have intensified his suicidal instincts.
My advice to the family and friends is to closely monitor the depressed person and be their sounding board. It is important for people undergoing depression and increased levels of anxiety to speak out. Currently, when a visit to the counsellor is also restricted, the sufferers must feel that there is still someone to reassure them that everything is going to be alright.”
“Technology cannot replace human interactions. It is important for people undergoing depression and increased levels of anxiety to speak out” — Kosuru Sangeetha Gowda, Psychologist
Depression is a mental illness
When someone commits suicide, various questions plague our minds. What drives people to take their lives? Why do they feel they have nothing to look forward to? Why can’t they be happy about all that they have achieved?
“Mental illness is something else; it is not about cause and effect. Those who have gone through the suffering can understand what the other person feels like. It is because of a chemical imbalance in your head, and you need to accept it,” shares Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam, who saw success and experienced adulation for his directorial debut in Telugu film, Pellichoopulu and for his acting stints as well.
Incidentally, in his case, it was the success that triggered depression. “It was especially after this movie’s success that I began experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. I was experiencing sweaty palms, racing thoughts; I was unable to put myself to sleep. I thought I was going insane. Some friends would ridicule me, few would try to understand. But, I realized that as a society we are not evolved enough to understand depression. I am glad I could connect the dots, and I was strong enough not to care about what others thought of me.”
There is no point looking for reasons, he points out. “It is a reaction to the culmination of past events, childhood trauma, pent up emotions that did not have an outlet and about how you perceive life.
“There is still a social stigma around the topic,” states the young director, who chose to seek medical help, even though he scouted the internet for forums that helped him seek strength and understand his condition.
“I realized that as a society we are not evolved enough to understand depression. I am glad I could connect the dots, and I was strong enough not to care about what others thought of me” — Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam, Actor, Director
The persisting stigma
“It is as much a taboo to speak of mental health as its of sex; about things that are so human. I don’t understand why. I thought things are changing but the pace is slow,” says Tejaswi Madivada, a young film actor, also popular for her stint in the Telugu reality show, Bigg Boss. She shares how she overcame stress with the help of friends and her passion for dance. “The only thing that helped me is my carefree attitude and my closest friends, who are well informed and educated and empathetic. I just pray everyone has friends like mine.”
Yet another misconception that needs dispelling is that depression occurs only when you are in a highly demanding environment like that of the entertainment industry or if you are going through some difficulties in life; these may be triggers, but not necessarily the cause of depression.
“Depression is about how one experiences happiness and sadness, but for most people, it is not a public discussion. It can be only fought when all human beings feel more empathy towards each other,” Tejaswi states.
Evidently, when celebrities speak out, the reach is far wider and more effective. Some of the educated class are aware of depression, but not many want to seek the help of a psychiatrist. They would rather go with their problem to a neurologist or a physician. “Many who come to my clinic say they do not want to take medication and ask if they could be treated through counselling. Would you dare say that if you are suffering from diabetes or infected with Corona? There is a limit to what counselling can do,” laments Dr Purnima Nagaraja, Psychiatrist, Dhriti Wellness Clinic.
She also calls out self-medication and says it’s the worst kind of abuse when people resort to checking Google and prescribing anti-depressants for themselves.
Not too long ago, one of the top actors of Bollywood, Deepika Padukone revealed that she suffered from depression and sought medical help. And, since then, she has been vocal about the issue, and through an organisation called ‘Live Love Laugh Foundation’, she started spreading awareness about the disease.
In one of her interviews, she shared, “I woke up one morning just feeling empty… I was telling them that I get this ‘pittish’ feeling in my stomach. I woke up feeling directionless, I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what to do and I had these bouts of feeling so low that I would just start crying at the drop of a hat.” She had the tell-tale signs that she was under stress which turned out to be depression. So bad was the experience that despite being treated for it, she continues to be worried.
Obviously, there is no blood test to detect depression. One needs to see if symptoms fit into diagnostic criteria. Signs include episodic extended periods of sadness, lack of motivation, lack of interest in things that otherwise gave us pleasure, excessive sleep or no sleep, loss of self-love and self-care, breakdown in communication, loss of interest in socializing, anger and irritability, sadness and crying spells; and if you are not able to snap out of it even after trying and no amount of cheering up works, then you know you need help.
High functioning anxiety
“Depression is about how one experiences happiness and sadness, but for most people, it is not a public discussion. It can be only fought when all human beings feel more empathy towards each other” Tejaswi Madiwada, actor
In today’s demanding and fast-paced lives, we see yet another kind of condition called ‘High Functioning Anxiety’. Dr Purnima explains, “In modern times, we cannot afford not to work. So, you see a different kind of depression where the usual signs are missing. People experience extended periods of sadness, there will be self-esteem issues, but they come across as very active. They are depressed, yet they push themselves to perform and are also successful. Their condition manifests as road rage, excessive body piercing, and such other self-harming actions like starving, etc. They do harbor existential thoughts with no immediate answers. However, they do not want to show they are depressed. They wear a mask of happiness.” This is the modern-day manifestation that is not yet included in the established diagnostic criteria, but is surely on its way to make it to the standard list, she states.
Depression in its worst form leads to suicide, but it can destroy you in other ways as well. “There is some kind of secrecy maintained around depression and seeking medical help. It eats into relationships, parenting, and work-life balance. It leads to sexual dysfunction and absence of tender feeling towards the partner,” she adds.
The current pandemic has surely turned our lives upside down, and even fairly normal people going about their lives are now more prone to mental illness, anxiety, and depression. And, women are more prone to mental illness. In addition to clinical reasons like post-partum depression and menstrual cycles, the current times have brought in newer challenges. “For women, excessive pressure of domestic chores, and apparently simple things like constant updates on social media showing women cooking new dishes every day for the family or people posting their pictures of voluntary work and helping others, can increase guilt and anxiety. Unknowingly you get into a competitive space,” explains Dr Purnima.
Stress affects everyone in different ways. Young children are stressed from being confined to their homes. Young adults are affected by uncertainty and boredom. Relationships are under strain. Elderly people are depressed as they feel left out. People feel out of control and frustrated, and the vulnerable ones are getting depressed.
“Many who come to my clinic say they do not want to take medication and ask if they could be treated through counselling. Would you dare say that if you are suffering from diabetes or infected with Corona?” — Dr Purnima Nagaraja, Psychiatrist, Dhriti Wellness Clinic
The way forward
Clinical Psychologist Dr Savita Date explains, “If stress is happening on a daily basis, initially, you build a certain resolve and determination to deal with that, but when it becomes too much you begin to lose energy to deal with the situation. Tiredness, lack of energy, and motivation have set in and people are becoming increasingly impatient and irritable.”
“We have to understand we are social animals; whether it’s less or more, we need people around us” — Dr Savita Date, Clinical Psychologist
She adds, “People staying alone or away from their children are experiencing anxiety. With the situation not improving anytime soon, the elderly, especially staying alone or as a couple, need to find ways to interact with others. The communities and apartment complexes that have put up strict rules by not allowing anyone inside must also check up on the elderly staying in. They must be allowed to walk out and socialize with their own kind within imitations. They must learn to communicate using WhatsApp and video call friends and family. Otherwise, the elderly not just suffer from loneliness and isolation, they also develop anxiety out of fear. We have to understand we are social animals; whether it’s less or more, we need people around us.”
Counsellor and mindfulness trainer Sandhya Luther deals extensively with stress, anxiety and depression. She shares that Sushant Singh Rajput’s death coaxed many youngsters who were dealing with anxiety issues to reach out to her to understand how they can deal with their situation. “People need to start thinking that the body and mind is one. They must also begin to respect their body, and slow down in life. They must take a break from the pressure to conform to societal norms. Listen to your body. Do things that make you genuinely happy. Learn to be with yourself. It was difficult for many to cope with being alone during the lockdown. This comes from not being able to slow down. Take it easy. There is a pleasure in contentment and peace. We should have a ‘not-to-do’ list just like we have a ‘to do’ list.”
The discussion on depression must go on, till Indian society accepts it as yet another health condition that needs medical attention, and the unwarranted taboo surrounding it is dispelled. It is not an easy battle to win. One can begin by trying to understand and acknowledge it – and that will be half the battle won.
There is a pleasure in contentment and peace. We should have a 'not-to-do' list just like we have a ‘to do’ list” – Sandhya Luther, Counsellor and Mindfulness Trainer
How do you know you are depressed?
Feeling of helplessness
Withdrawal from friends and family
Lack of concentration
Thoughts of death
Changes in appetite
Alcohol and drug addiction
Prolonged bouts of sadness
Things to do when you feel anxious or depressed:
Inculcate a healthy lifestyle
Hang out with people you like
Eat healthy food
Avoid too much news and social media
Sleep on time
Focus on self-care
Exercise, it induces happy hormones into your brain
Consult an expert
Things to know:
You cannot snap out of depression
It is not the same thing as sadness
It is an illness that needs treatment
Do not indulge in self-medication
Do not seek advice from all and sundry
Did you know?
Food like bananas, dark chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits etc. are known to have invigorating and anti-depressant properties
Aromatherapy is a mood lifter. Surrounding yourself with good smells will help you when you are feeling low
How you can help?
Try and understand
Stay in touch
Do not give advice unless you are trained
Do things together that can make him happy
You can make a difference just by being around
One Life – 07893078930
Roshni – 04066202000
(All seven days, 11 am to 9 pm)
Professional Help in Hyderabad, Telangana, India
Dr Savita Date
Dr Purnima Nagaraja
Consultant Psychiatrist & Psychotherapist
Dhriti Wellness Cener
Phone: 90000 09718
Counsellor, Mindfulness and Meditation Trainer
Phone: 81797 69631
Kosuru Sangeetha Gowda
You Are Happiness
Life Counselling and Coaching Center
Phone: 98850 78811
The article was first published in Hyderabad-based lifestyle magazine ‘WOW’