What We Need To Understand About Mental Health

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“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’” – C. S.Lewis .

It was World Mental Health Day and a programme was organised at the Don Bosco Youth Centre, an important centre for learning and rehabilitation in Shillong, on 10 October, 2018.

Jasper stood on the stage, introduced himself and gave his testimony entitled, ‘Living with it’. He was middle aged and a survivor of severe clinical depression. He was diagnosed at 15 and has continued to live with depression for 20 years.

What exactly is clinical depression? Jasper defined it as a condition of the body where the system does not have the required chemicals, such as neurotransmitters, to create a balanced or ‘normal’ state of mind. To elucidate further, depression is not the same as being merely depressed or sad. Generally, one may feel depressed or sad when something has gone wrong in his or her life through external factors, such as having a bad day, etc. But being diagnosed with depression means feeling persistently depressed or a loss of interest in activities causing significantly impairment in everyday life even when one seems to be doing everything right and have every reason to feel happy. This is why they may feel ashamed to talk about it. Jasper added that he cannot recall any major incidents that have occurred in his life that made him depressed and that when people asked him why he seems so sad, his reply is that he does not know. But apart from psychological reasons, Dr. Achal Bhagat, a psychiatrist at the Indrapratha Apollo Hospital, says that sociological factors like deselecting culture that does not accept diversity, fixed parameters of success, increased social isolation, and urbanization are some of the prominent reasons of increasing suicide rates in India.

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According to World Health Organization ( WHO), India is ranked as the most depressed country in the world, with every sixth Indian suffering from mental illnesses such as anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. This may be attributed to the lack of mental health workers like psychologists, psychiatrists and doctors. According to the website Scoopwoop News, despite the fact than the Mental Healthcare Bill makes it mandatory for the state government to provide affordable mental healthcare for all, the cost of treatment remains high in almost all states. India is followed closely by China and USA. The average suicide rate in India is 10.9 for every lakh (100,000) people and the majority of people who commit suicide are below 44 years of age. Prolonged depression, if left undiagnosed and untreated, may propagate feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, loss of interest and withdrawal into self. This can ultimately culminate in suicide too, says Dr. Kedar Tilwe, a psychiatrist. In fact, according to a study by The Lancet, depression is the second leading cause of death among young Indians.

Jasper revealed that his depression took a turn for the worse when he tried to commit suicide a multiple of times, nearly succeeding twice. One such time was when he ingested an entire strip of sleeping pills. What went through his mind back then was the joy that he would no longer have to live another day dealing with the incomprehensive haunting sadness. “ I turned to substance abuse, “ he said, ”not because I enjoyed it, but because the little pleasure it offered me, away from the pain of reality, was better than nothing.” He has been through many rounds of Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) which is usually prescribed as a last resort by psychiatrists. In this process, electric shocks are emitted to the brain while the patient is under anaesthesia. The object of this is to reboot the brain and the nervous system to make a fresh start.

According to Jasper, one in seven people would know about mental health, but a majority still are in the dark about it because it is still a topic of taboo. People like Jasper strive to break that silence and taboo by talking about his illness which gives inspiration and hope to others. “People tell us that it’s all in our minds”, he elaborated. Sharing about the behaviour of a person who is suffering from depression, he said that we should be permissive of people who love to spend time alone.

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Depression also causes hypersomnia – a condition that makes one insomniac at night but to over-sleep during the day time.

“Every day, I wake up with a foul mind; there isn’t a day when I would wake up and not want to kill myself.”

“It’s a daily battle for me and people don’t seem to realize this when I tell them.”

“Even things that you may regard as small- like breaking a cup, triggers a change of feelings and emotions in us.”

Jasper also advised parents to check for behavioural changes in their children. He spoke about a person, whose child committed suicide in school, indicating that teachers have as much a role to play as parents do in the lives of children.

Depression is a very silent killer. Most of the time, it goes by unnoticed and unrecognized   until and unless we talk to the person suffering directly.

In an opinion piece in The Indian Express leading psychiatrist, Dr. Bhagat advises expression of self as a way to help cope with depression. “Talking to a close friend, trusted family member or even writing down your feelings helps, “ Dr. Bhagat stated.

Jasper also admitted that penning down his feelings into poetry has played a huge part in his healing process, and he has published books on poetry. “People should take time to read about mental health, and please don’t tell people suffering from depression that it is all in their minds because it will have the same consequence as ignoring a sickness or a disease.”

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Author: Karen Lyndem

Karen Lyndem is a Staff Writer. She has a B.A in English and a Masters of Social Work from St. Edmund’s College, Shillong.

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