DOWN THE HIGHWAY TO HELL: DEALING WITH DEPRESSION
Our modern society is plagued by a new epidemic. The widespread prevalence of mental health disorders, led by urban depression is irrevocably altering the youth of today. How do we as a society tackle this? Radhika Dutt explores.
A lurking shadow latched on to your body, it moves as you move, it glides as you glide. No matter how hard you try it has itself firmly fixed on to your back making its way through the sinuous roads with you as its guiding light. Soon, the game changes, you become the shadow, and what was your shadow now becomes the subject. It moves, you move, it glides, you glide, it feels, you feel, it cries – you choke. In a nutshell, this is the phenomenon of Depression that has paralysed the modern day human. A paralysis that is most difficult to grapple with, given that its manifestations are rarely physical, until in its final stages when irrevocable damage has been done to the mind, and the body finally begins to show signs. The deception of the modern world as they say – all that seems well, isn't so well.
According to WHO Reports this silent killer affects over 300 million people across the globe. In India alone, over five crore people are affected by varying levels and types of depression. From 2005 to 2015 there has been an 18.4 per cent increase in the number of affected persons. While over five crore of our population suffers from depression another three crore suffers from the added pain of anxiety. The numbers are a glaring reminder to everyone that mental health disorders are a reality that we cannot afford to shrug away.
While not physically manifest, these evils are lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce on the most vulnerable victims who would provide it with an incubation to grow and blossom into a full fledged disorder. Masked in the possibility of temporary pain, depression puts a leash around your emotional and rational decision-making pushing you into a darkness where there is little light to guide you back home.
"My mind had become blocked. The only emotion I felt was dejection and anger. How did I turn out this way, why did I let this happen to me? I thought this over, and over again; I was just moving in never ending circles. My history of abuse had irrevocably damaged my perception of myself. I almost didn't recognise this adult who turned out to be nothing like what I had hoped it would," says Kriti* a 28-year-old entrepreneur who had been suffering from depression since her days at University. "As I begun pulling myself into a cocoon, I cut out everyone from my life. It was me, and my regressive thoughts. Sleepless nights, tiredness, body pain and an undying sense of emotional saturation," she said recalling her days of 'being depressed'. "It only got better once I started taking acting classes. I would go for them religiously, and every evening for hours I would pretend to be someone else. Wearing someone else's choice of clothes, pitching my voice differently, reacting in a situation contrary to what I deemed appropriate, all of these differences put together soon made me see myself through someone else's eyes."
Kriti had been, what many would say, lucky, to have found an escape route where she realised an outlet that uplifted her out of a time of darkness. However, few have had as much luck with the pitfalls of being affected with Depression. "The patients who come to us with mild cases of depression have a recuperative chance of somewhere between 60 to 70 per cent, the ones who are in the moderate bracket have a 20 to 30 per cent probability, but for the ones who are severely affected by depression the chances of their complete recovery are almost nil," says Niharika Ghosh, Consulting Clinical Psychologist (Child and Adult), who had been practicing in Delhi-NCR. Depression is not a simple extension of grief or sadness its roots are spread much deeper. As Ghosh explains, the symptoms of depression can largely be categorised as emanating in the form of three cardinal principles – helplessness, worthlessness and hopelessness. It is complemented by aggravating feelings of fatigue, complete loss of attraction towards pleasure, lack of sleep, and a strong sense of guilt. Depression in close to 70 per cent cases is accompanied by a parallel deficit of anxiety. Anxiety expresses itself in more physiological terms – evident nervousness (biting nails, fidgeting), breathlessness, sweaty palms and feet with a heavy chest. Often when patients of depression display a higher propensity to anxiety the disorder manifests itself as Agitated Depression whose expression can be more aggressive fuelled by an attraction to violence. "In extreme cases of depression or anxiety patients have shown signs of psychosis, schizophrenia, delusion, and OCD among other severe disorders. Children as young as six begin to show signs of depression. We are living in a scary world where our most lethal enemies are in our minds," says Ghosh.
Given the complexities, the problems of mental health disorders form a world of their own, a world that has been unscathed by human interference and continues to flourish in its very cocoon, feeding off the little happiness that we are capable of experiencing. The lack of knowledge and the very limited awareness has further aggravated the problem. In most cases, patients do not express themselves in fear of taboo, that they would receive unwarranted sympathy or be categorised as someone 'different.' In other instances, they themselves further aggravate their situation by refusing to come out of the shackles accepting that their fate has been sealed and there is little another person can do to drag them out of their highway in hell. The lack of awareness on mental health disorders adversely affects those suffering from it, and those who surround the sufferers.
Policies still remain largely insufficient, other than the Mental Health Act which has decriminalised suicides, projecting it first as an instance of mental health disturbance by providing counselling and treatment to surviving victims prior to launching investigations into the aspect of criminality. While policies stand, on one hand, education and learning form the second, more important pillar. Instead of hushing into silence any conversation that deals with issues of mental health, young adults ought to be familiarised with these possibilities, while their parents must also be adequately informed about the pitfalls and recuperative methods. Pretending that there isn't an elephant in the room, doesn't send it back to the jungle.
"Whether we would like to accept it or not, our modern world of technology and isolation has produced this day where around the world we are witnessing an upheaval in the instances of mental health disorders. This is pushing people towards adopting narcotics while also completely destroying their self-esteem and the ability to adapt in the face of adversities. People are lonely, isolated, and they are unable to forge real relationships," says Niharika Ghosh while elaborating on the stressful need of professional excellence that is driving individuals to the edge of their emotional equilibrium. The growing rate of suicides has also emanated from individuals suffering from depression, reminding us repeatedly that loneliness is real. The suicides of Chester Bennington and Robin Williams were a harsh reminder of how qualitative and even quantitative success with an embellished life does little to protect one's mental peace. "It's been this way for the last 15 years. That night when I came back after the accident I lay on my bed looking at the ceiling fan. Now fifteen years later, I still cannot put myself to sleep," says 32-year-old Shekhar*, who has been battling depression since the last 12 years. "Nobody knows what it's like. Not my family, not my friends, not my lover. Only my counsellor has some clue, but I don't even feel like speaking to her anymore. This is all pointless, I guess this is how my life is supposed to be," he added.
Shekhar is an example of what hundreds and thousands in our population are undergoing on an everyday basis. Amidst careless laughter, light banter, and an attempt to forge relationships hides the masked face of urban depression that prohibits nuanced experience of any emotion peripheral to dejection. It not only ruins the lives of those affected by the disorder but all proves to be catastrophic for those who surround the dejected trying to nurture and care for the seemingly fine, yet evidently, out of sorts souls who are being steadily choked by the agonising clasps of urban depression. Suddenly in 30 years with the chants of modernisation, growth, freedom and liberty we have also landed ourselves an extra topping – a population that is struggling to defeat the enemies growing within itself. While we build policies to safeguard our nation-states, or propel our GDP, or even fight off the faces of hegemony, there is little deliberation on how to tackle evils that live within each of us, who, given the correct circumstances would flourish to devastate individual sanctity, the one goal that is universally sought after. If, at the end of the day we are unable to afford ourselves a night of peaceful sleep then what fruits do our laborious efforts at rationalising the economy bear?
"I lie in bed every night hoping tomorrow will be different. I will be in a new place with new people where I don't have to remember what I was," says Krishnaa*, 24-year-old journalist. While simple, when read through, these lines present a harsh reality. The battle to undo the self has been a trigger to suicides across the globe. Feelings of inefficiency, inadequacy and a disassociation from ideas of 'Who am I' and 'What do I want' are common among today's youth and young adults, who, while subordinating their emotions in fear of public scrutiny have also had to forgo the precious comfort of garnering meaningful relationships. Everyone is out to battle against their perceived demons, so who stays back to protect us from the monsters that are nestled within?
"Just talk to each other. Make real friends. Get off your social networking for a while. It doesn't hurt to let your guards down," suggests Niharika Ghosh.
Maybe it's time to take some steps back and find an answer to the question that was asked on the first day of elementary school- Who do you want to be when you grow up? Then, try to be that person, inside-out, without allowing anything else to let you be otherwise. Pick a star, be the star.