The World’s Quietest Killer: Are You Misunderstanding Depression?
(May is observed as Mental Health Awareness Month. This story is being republished for the same.)
A student jumps to his death. Your favourite singer takes his life. That friend who isolated themselves was feeling more than just “low”.
Depression is silently growing, slithering into our lives, taking lives, while we continue to take it lightly. The stigma attached to it is no secret.
Even in the “modern age” we live in, many don’t understand that mental health issues are as real and pervasive as meeting with an accident or getting cancer.
Depression is plaguing our country and affecting people around us more often than we realise. It is a medical condition, it won’t just go away.
A person can’t just be expected to get over it, any more than they can will themselves to get over a broken arm.
No, Depression Is Not The Same As Being Very Sad
I repeat, depression is a medical illness. And sadness is an emotion or a feeling. The two are not the same.
To give you an idea of how real it is, depression is the world’s leading cause of ill health. Not ill mental health, but ill health. Period.
World Health Organisation declared this year that 300 million people suffer from it worldwide. And in India, close to 50 million people have mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
There are feelings of discomfort, heaviness, emptiness and hopelessness. It feels like an elephant on your chest, yet hollow and empty.
So yes, one can’t just “cheer up” and get over depression, just like they can’t “cheer up” and get over jaundice, cholera or tuberculosis.
Just like cancer is caused by physiological changes in the body, depression is caused by physical and chemical changes in the brain.
There is a depletion of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. It even has measurable physical manifestations, like the shrinking of the frontal lobe in the brain.
How Do You Differentiate Between Depression and Sadness?
Sadness usually has a trigger. You had a bad day at work, or are dealing with a personal problem – these instances make you sad. Yes, upsetting incidents in life can lead to depression. However, it may set in without an emotional trigger as well. Everything in your life may seem perfect from the outside, but you can still have depression.
When a person is sad, if you take away the reason for their sadness, they generally cheer up. That is not the case with depression.
Psychiatrists explain that if you’re in a state of despair for over two weeks, even after circumstances improve, it’s probably depression and you should seek professional help.
You are NOT weak and you’re NOT “exaggerating”, if you go consult a doctor for your mental health issues. It’s as necessary as taking medicine to treat your fever.
Our ignorance, bias and stigma prevent timely help and cause suffering. Let’s change that. Let’s talk depression.
If you feel despair or if you know someone who needs help, guide them to this list of state-wise credible mental health professionals collated by healthcollective.in.
Illustration: Susnata Paul
Producer: Sameeksha Khare
Video Editor: Hitesh Singh
Visualisation: Sameeksha Khare and Aaqib Raza Khan
(All medical claims in this article have been made after talking to various psychiatrists to understand what depression is.)