Depression: The Hidden Epidemic
“At the end of the day, no matter how bad it gets, all that I really need is the assurance that someone will stick with me throughout. That someone will be patient enough” says X regarding his battle with depression. We are sitting in X’s living room, chatting at a time he feels most awake: 3 am in the morning.
Contemplating a pseudonym to maintain his anonymity, I suggest that we go with the classic X. “How about L? For loser?” He quips in, silently laughing at his own expense.
“It is hard to get over the self-loathing, sorry.”, he continues. “Call me anything. I just don’t want to deal with the questions that come with talking about it on record you know.” X believes that the response to his public articulation of depression would only contribute to delegitimising his feelings. “I will start believing that whatever I am dealing with is not legitimate. That I am somehow weaker than others and incapable of dealing with day to day life.
David Foster Wallace recognised this difficulty of articulating the experience of depression in his short story “The Depressed Person”. He begins the story by suggesting that the “depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing and articulating pain itself was a component of the pain”.
Wallace’s story echoes X’s incessant self loathing by stating that the depressed person is aware of “what a joyless burden she was”, and that she always made it a point to express the “enormous gratitude” she felt for having someone to support her and talk to her while she undergoes depression.
A recent report published by The World Health Organisation reveals that about 50 million people from the global estimate of 322 million people suffering from depression are from India. Considering the pain that accompanies the mere articulation of depression in order to seek support, what can the people located around such a person do to ease the formidable symptoms of depression?
Doctor Sugandha Gupta from The Delhi Mind Clinic emphasises on patience while caring for a depressed individual. “Being too pushy may be detrimental to the individual’s mental well being also, so what is needed is a gentle and balanced approach.”, she says. She adds that it is most important for caregivers to understand that like any physical illness, the symptoms of mental illness’ our beyond anyone’s control. Apart from the understanding and acknowledgement of depression as an illness, Dr Gupta says that “most of these patients require a minimal degree of accommodation.”
X confides that his biggest fear is to burden his loved ones with his illness. “I don’t want anyone to share my pain. I don’t want anyone to be too involved and hence affected by my condition. All I truly need is for people to sit by me and read a book or something you know.”
“They should talk to the depressed person and offer unconditional support.”, continues Dr Sugandha on the topic of caregiving. She claims that people need to be sensitized on this issue so that the stigma around the illness can be uplifted, allowing for more people to access the right treatment without feeling guilty or shameful.
X remembers when he first approached a therapist to get the treatment he required: “I was not financially independent so I had to steal some money from my parents to go visit the therapist. I felt so sneaky, like I was doing something really wrong.”
The stigma and moral judgement around mental illness compelled X and perhaps others like him to hide his condition from his parents for a long time. Dr Gupta corroborates his experience by stating that often “mental illnesses are viewed as not an illness, but a result of moral weakness and lack of resilience.” It is these dangerous misconceptions that propagate the belittling stigma around depression and mental illnesses in general. Furthermore, it is this shame, the doctor suggests, which makes it a “hidden epidemic” of concern..