Features Saturday, April 11, 2015 - 05:30
The person who ran the Twitter handle @aapchutiyehain is no more. His friends say he was depressed and took his own life by jumping into a water tank. How many people will we have to lose before we accept that depression is a disease like any other, one that can be managed and sometimes cured? Read- Twitter mourns the death of famously witty Twitter celebrity and founder of AapChutiyeHain How many of us know of people who are the life of a party but who, in reality, need medical attention? How many of us know people who make others happy as a means of drowning their own sorrows? If you say no to the questions above, you are either lying, scared, insensitive or ignorant all of which are extremely unhelpful and dangerous. Instead of speaking in hushed tones about mood-swings, alcoholic or pill-popping friends and family, would it not be helpful to help people seek medical attention? Any kind of addiction – even twitter addiction – should set off alarm bells. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says India leads the world in suicides with people in the age group of 15-29 being hit the most. Available estimates also show that treating mental illnesses will cost India an annual $4.8 billion in the next 15 years. This is not the whole picture as depression remains very under-reported in public health statistics in India. Why is there a deafening silence about depression in India? A few months ago Bollywood stars Deepika Padukone and Anupam Kher gave this much-needed conversation a kick-start by speaking about their encounters with depression and how they are coping with it. Padukone said it was a friend’s suicide that prompted her to seek counseling, while it was Robin William’s suicide that led Kher to speak publicly about one of India’s worst kept secrets – depression and mental illnesses. Read here. Friends and family ought to be the first to spot signs of depression, but they are also most often the first to deny it. Get married, start a family, get a job, get a life, join a gym are some of the common and readily-offered pieces of advice to someone who may be struggling with getting through the day because of a depression. “Stigma plays a huge role in preventing people from seeking help,” Dr. Sanjeev Jain of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS)." While families hide mental illnesses there is public mockery of it. “In public spaces it is the most evident so that at many levels of civic discourse, accusation of mental illness is used as a particularly galling insult or in a derisive (politicians calling each other mad, recommending psychiatric evaluation for their adversaries or media stories highlighting gory or disruptive behaviours) with little concern or even understanding that it is an illness. The trickle-down effect of this contempt is spread widely across all segments of our society,” Dr. Jain said. Read here. India’s archaic mental health laws were revised recently and the new regulations emphasize access to mental health care as an inalienable right, on par with access to other healthcare. This is an important first step that allows for the integration of psychiatric services at every medical service provider. The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology (Medicine) further de-stigmatised the disease. The winner of the award showed, through a set of experiments that showed how maps and memory of places combine to produce what are called geographical orientations. In other words the brain had its own GPS which was little understood and extrapolating from the research, other mental processes could be better understood.  How do you know that the hours someone spends on the social media, the quantities of food they consume and retail therapy trips are not calls for help? How do you know you  are not depressed?        
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