Every Depression related video or movie starts with a seemingly sad person waking up in bed and contemplating his lonely life. As a formally depressed person who has tackled Anxiety all his adult life, I know the latter to be true but the former an utter lie. We don’t wake up because we don’t sleep. Up until two years ago, I couldn’t fall asleep even if I went to bed at 11 in the evening. I would keep tossing and turning in the bed, and around 4 or 5 am drift into a restless sleep due to exhaustion. At 9 am a new day would start with my depression culminating with the days and me losing my psyche with each passing day.
Damn, it’s difficult being depressed. That sounds like an understatement and also a cliche. But it is what it is.
Indian society historically has been quite inclusive with regards to diverse cultural and religious traditions. Our community has welcomed with open arms other civilisations, accepting their beliefs and cultures without prejudice. Whether it be Alexander the Great, Muslim Invaders, or European explorers, the Indian society has always been all-encompassing in integrating diverse civilizations and religions, forming a unity in diversity. However, in every age, there has been a taboo. Eating beef, menstruation, caste system, are some examples of ancient taboos. But today there is a new taboo: mental health.
Actually, it would be erroneous to say it’s a new taboo for since the Vedic Times mental diseases have been considered at best to be a random consequence of a person’s past karma and at worst the work of the devil. A schizophrenic person could easily be diagnosed as a patient affected by a Rakshasha or Pishacha. Naturally, the treatments varied all the way from jhaad fook to ostracising the patient to a secluded place in the village.
Five thousand years later and the best we can do today is give useless advice, ridicule mental patients and give them electroshock therapy.
What is Depression?
Depression, as defined by the American Psychiatry Association, is a common -yes it’s very common- but serious illness which leads to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Every depression case is unique on its own, but the common symptoms that a clinically depressed person faces are insomnia, a profound feeling of sadness, loss of interest in activities that once felt fulfilling, and increased fatigue.
What Causes Depression?
For their survival, human beings must perform activities which are necessary for their survival like maintaining homeostasis, the continuation of the species through procreation etc. These are not mental but physical requirements for every human being to stay alive and healthy. The chief hormone responsible for motivating us to indulge in these so-called survival instincts is Dopamine. It oversees conditioning of body’s base instincts using reward-motivated behaviour on a fundamental level.
Dopamine is released in the brain when we perform things which keep us alive. This hormone release boosts our willingness and excitement for things that are necessary for our survival. Naturally, what we like also leads to a release of Dopamine, and hence, the reward mechanism pushes us to do these things again. The misregulation of this hormone invariably is responsible for people becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Can I Wish My Depression Away?
Depression causes the dopamine receptors in our brain to malfunction, which decreases our interest in activities that we once enjoyed. It’s pretty simple: if Dopamine is not released when you eat food or sleep, you will have no incentive to do it. The decreased amount of Dopamine in our system leads to a reduced motivation to do even the basic tasks of human survival. This should, I reckon, make people realise why Depression although a disease with mental causes once manifested becomes a physical problem; something which can’t be wished away or cured by ‘not overthinking’ or not thinking. Besides, how can anybody stop thinking?
Mental Health in India
According to WHO, 4.5 percent of India’s population or around 56 million people suffered from Depression in 2015. And as staggering those numbers might be, they don’t even get beyond the surface of the problem simply because a lot of people suffering from depression don’t have the means to consult a physician. In fact, many people, including the supposed literate ones, brush it off as nothing and don’t visit a psychiatrist.
Since time immemorial mental health in India has been taken for granted because of the deep roots of spiritualism. People in the Vedic Times and our previous generations didn’t face these problems for two reasons. First, they didn’t have the time to worry over futile things. They were too busy surviving in a country fresh out of slavery, trying to prove their mettle on a global level.
In my father’s times, even one glass of water was earned after walking six or seven miles to and forth. After getting so tired and satisfied at the same time, they naturally didn’t have the time to overthink as we do now. They were too busy worrying about their survival to ponder over their eternal solitude in this universe. Heavy ain’t it?
Times are different now. Everything we require for our survival is on our fingertips, and unlike our grandparents, we don’t have to worry where we’ll get our food or water the next day. I want to explicitly mention that I’m not saying that the 21st century’s generation is privileged. It’s just that the time has changed and with it the circumstances. The physical ailments have now given way to the mental ones. And that is why our young generation trapped in a mad frenzy of proving themselves are free falling into a pit of depression.
How To Get Better?
The treatment of Depression consists of a regime of medicines which can treat the Dopamine receptors in the brain, coupled with lifestyle changes which can make the positive-change long term. These medications, if you don’t know, are called antidepressants. For the umpteenth time, they don’t make you slow, and they don’t make you mad or crazy. In fact, if a person is taking antidepressants, it means he/she wants to be better, which I would say is the opposite of being crazy. Sadly the taboo of taking antidepressants, depression symptoms being viewed as socially unacceptable, and the stigma against mental diseases make it very difficult for the patient to get better inspite of the fact that the treatment is pretty easy.
First and foremost, you have to come out and cross the barrier of denial. If you get around that, your family’s and friends’ denial comes into the picture. They’ll give constructive suggestions like don’t overthink, get out more, or the best one ‘Behave like an adult’. I want the patients and their caretakers to understand that this so-called advice doesn’t help. Once an ailment has entered a physical level, it can’t be treated with simple lifestyle changes. Lifestyle change is, of course, necessary but to be cured completely, it has to be paired with medication which can address the problem of dopamine dysregulation. Just like you can’t wish a fever or Cancer away, you can’t just walk your depression away.
That being said, good sleep, proper nutrition, and healthy hobbies must be paired with the medicines to make sure you are never bothered by depression or any other psychological disease again. If you feel you are having negative thoughts full of forlorn more than three months at a stretch, you must talk to a person you trust the most and discuss what you should do next. If there is no one just go to a psychiatrist yourself; he’ll be more than happy to help you. To eradicate this disease from our society, we not only need to be open to understanding different types of mental disorders and how to deal with them.