Right from our childhood, we have been taught about the importance of physical health. Amma would ask us to eat curd after lunch and to dry our hair properly after a bath, among a boatload of other things. And then there is the WhatsApp ammavan who keeps sending forwards about how mobiles should be kept away before going to bed because it emits harmful radiation. Long story short, physical health has a remarkable importance in our society and yet, the significance of mental health is totally ignored.
Things are so bad that the community I live in believes that homosexuality is a mental illness, but depression and bipolar disorder are regarded as the devil’s handiwork. And that’s why depression is one of the most underrated and underdiagnosed mental illnesses.
A survey conducted by the International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health in January 2019 found that 48% of Keralites who were affected by last year’s floods showed symptoms of depression (1.63% had severe depression). The number of people diagnosed with depression has increased by 67% between 1990 to 2013, and by 2025, it is expected to increase by another 22.5%.
Out of this, one section of our society is particularly vulnerable – youngsters. As the famous brown parenting joke goes, “If you’re sick and you laugh, you are not sick anymore”. This large section of our society has to endure the struggle alone, something I realised when I visited the local police station to research about the topic ‘Excessive use of drugs among youngsters’. The police officer was concerned with the alarming growth of drug use among the youth, and said, “A fair amount of kids are using drugs to escape the stress from schools and to cope up with extreme mood swings, especially students from professional colleges. And out of this a considerable amount of them was diagnosed with severe mental depression”.
However, academic pressure is not the only cause. Social media is also regarded as a major contributor. There are two types of social media users – one that uses social media to constantly compare their life with the extravagant social media lifestyle, and others use it as a means to escape from their normal and sometimes problematic life. The former can be a cause of depression while the latter can be the major cause of laziness as it is in a way running from one’s responsibility.
What I’m trying to say is that the cause of depression varies from person to person. It is estimated that almost all of us, at some point in our lives, are prone to this illness. For some, it might be due to academic pressure. For others, genetics might play a huge role; studies suggest that people whose family has a history of depression are more likely to be affected. Past experience with abuse – physical, sexual, or emotional – can lead to depression too. A broken family, childhood abuse, death of loved ones and serious illness are other causes of depression. An interesting fact is that even perks and felicity can result in depression, like getting a new job or getting married, etc. And in a society where sickness is closely related to visual attributes, depression is hard to detect for it is hard to tell if the person sitting next to you is depressed or not.
I once asked a friend who was suffering from depression what it felt like. She said, “It is a feeling of never-ending sadness. It felt as if all rays of hope and happiness is sucked out of you.” It reminded me of the Dementors from Harry Potter; which comes as no surprise as J K Rowling revealed that they were inspired by her experience with depression in her 20s. And the only way to fight a Dementor is through positivity.
So don’t take mental health for granted. If there’s something troubling you, speak to people you trust and get professional help. And if you know someone who is going through a tough time, be kind to them, hear them out, and support them in any way you can.
I would like to end this post with two of my favourite quotes.
“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” ― John Keats.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Khalil Gibran