By: Dr. Shambhavi Samir Alve
While in lockdown India is turning into a hotbed of depression and consequent suicides, psychologists warn of possible signs of depression.
A life was lost to suicide and has taken the entire country by shock. He is not the first, and unfortunately, not the last one to succumb either. While there could be lot many reasons contributing for an individual to take such a drastic step, we often find the roots in psychological disorders like depression. According to WHO, 1 in every 3 people you know would be showing signs of depression. Having said that, it is important to understand what depression means, as it is a widely used and equally misunderstood term. On a daily basis we hear a homemaker say she is “depressed” because the domestic helper did not turn up, or an employee saying he/she is “depressed” because the monthly target seems unachievable; a student says exam pressure is making him/her feel “depressed.” This simply reflects lack of awareness in a large section of our society, and so the term depression, which signifies a clinical problem, is interchangeably used for a bad mood on most of the occasions.
Due to lack of knowledge and awareness towards this mental illness, the symptoms of depression might go unnoticed. If depression in a person prolongs for two weeks or more, then it is matter of concern. Depression most often results from a combination of factors, rather than one cause. For example, if you went through a divorce, were diagnosed with a serious medical condition, or lost your job, the stress could prompt you to start drinking more, which in turn could cause you to withdraw from family and friends. Those factors combined could then trigger depression.
However, there are few risk factors that make individuals more prone to developing depression.
- Loneliness: The relationship between loneliness and depression is two-way; while lack of social support can put an individual to heightened risk of developing depression, but during a depressive phase, one feels the need to be withdrawn and isolated from others. However, support from family and friends can help individuals from slipping into clinical depression.
- Conflicts in relationships: Being stuck in an unhappy, abusive or relationship full of conflicts can be emotionally draining and it could increase the possibility of developing depression if not dealt with.
- Disturbing life experiences: Drastic unpleasant changes in life like, death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job, financial crisis can be overwhelming for some individuals wherein they start redefining their personal identity around these experiences. A persistent negative outlook towards one’s life and future also increases the chances of developing depression.
- Chronic illnesses: Being diagnosed with chronic illnesses like cancer, arthritis, or heart disease can leave an individual feeling helpless and hopeless. This could further result in development of depression.
- Family history: Studies have indicated that depression can run across generations in a family, however, no particular gene can be assigned to have a role in development of depression. The choice of lifestyle one chooses for himself/herself, coping skills and resilience has an even more important role to play.
- Childhood trauma/abuse: Early childhood experiences play a crucial role in what kind of beliefs one holds towards life as an adult. Being exposed to abuse, trauma or bullying in their childhood can make the individual prone to physical as well as mental health issues like depression.
- Personality traits: The personality traits one possesses are either inherited from parents or are developed in connection to one’s life experiences. These can shape how the individual perceives situations; for instance, those who are worry excessively or are in state of anxiety more often can be overly self-critical and suffer from low confidence. As a result, it could put them at higher risk of developing depression.
On a concluding note, it is important to know that depression is a serious mental illness which definitely isn’t age or gender or region specific. Among the developing countries, we as a nation still have a lot to achieve in terms of mental health hygiene. We need to start with creating awareness among general population regarding mental health and help them overcome the stigma attached to it; making them realize mental health issue like depression is a real problem just like any other physical ailment, say cancer or paralysis, which needs proper course of treatment by a trained professional. Every individual is at equal risk of developing the illness at any point of life.
However, being aware of the symptoms and the importance of seeking professional help can help them overcome the problem. There are various interventions available, from lifestyle changes to medications, from counselling to psychotherapies. No matter which path of treatment they choose, asking for professional help is the first step to getting back to feeling better and enjoying life again. Every small initiative by the government, by the society or even at individual level can make a big difference and help our country become a depression-less society.
(The writer is a Ph.D. (Psychology), MBA-HR and a Developmental Psychologist, Clinical hypnotherapist, and Arts Based Therapy Practitioner)