Depression and alcoholism are public health disasters in the making

Sai Prasanth Kalabhavan Mani and Rajesh Pillai have left us with a message
Voices Opinion Thursday, March 17, 2016 - 10:39

The stories are painfully similar, as similar as they are neglected by the families and ignored by the public. When Tamil television actor Sai Prasanth took his own life last week, the script played out once more. Friends and family said he was always laughing, seemed so normal while shooting, they had no idea and they are shocked. Oh, yes, he appeared depressed because of some family problems and debt, but no one imagined he would take such a drastic step.

Wake up India and feel the pain. Friends and family are no one to ‘imagine’ anything other than accept that depression is normal - as normal as family problems and debt. The only difference is that it is a hidden epidemic that is quietly taking a toll across the country. We hear about Sai Prasanth and Hollywood’s Robin Williams because they are famous people. Millions close their eyes forever anonymously to become a statistic. Read Sai Prashant’s story here.

Just the other day there was Kalabhavan Mani, an auto-rickshaw driver who rose to become a star, feted and revered as cine stars are. He brought music and cheer to people’s homes. He had a serious liver condition, but still consumed alcohol, and according to some friends was even taken to de-addiction. Was he in need of professional help? Was he trying to reach out? More questions, more deafening silence and a hasty return by all to that fake space we call normal. Read his story here.

Before Kalabhavan Mani, there was director Rajesh Pillai and unfortunately, there will be others. Same narrative, another human being, another life snuffed out when it needn’t have been. He was at work, seemed happy. Oh yes, he was over-weight, loved junk food and like many in his shoes, the diet was to begin tomorrow. That tomorrow, everyone knew never comes unless people survive a stroke or a heart attack. He had fatty liver and non- alcoholic liver cirrhosis we learnt.  Doctors told The News Minute consumption of junk food or aerated drinks alone cannot lead to a diseased liver condition. According to Dr. Prakash Zechariah of PVS Hospital in Kochi, junk food like chips and colas can aggravate liver disease, not be the sole cause of it. Read Pillai’s story here.

A little over a year ago, the world of music was in mourning at the passing away of child prodigy Mandolin Srinivas. He had suffered a multiple organ failure following a liver transplant. According to his family, he was a teetotaller, a non-smoker and a vegetarian. We must respect families and their ways of coping with tragedy and their truths, but a suicide is an indictment for the family and friends. Cirrhosis of the liver is not an overnight disease – the liver is one of our most resistant organs.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the annual per capita consumption of alcohol in India was 2.2 litres in 2012, up from 1.6 litres in 2005. The world body said over 11% Indians indulge in binge drinking compared to the global average of over 16%. Kerala was the highest where over 15 year-olds consumed eight litres of alcohol per annum followed by Maharashtra and Punjab.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) of which mental health is a part have surpassed communicable diseases as India’s major killers. Over 60% of Indians now die of diabetes, strokes and cancers. Tobacco use alone kills one million Indian annually. The WHO says the probability of an Indian in the age group of 30-70 years dying at present from the four main NCDs – diabetes, cancers, strokes and respiratory problems – is 26%.

The biggest problem confronting the reporting and treatment of mental illnesses in India is stigma, social and familial. Shame is just a heartbeat away from that.  Bollywood actors Deepika Padukone and Anupam Kher have spoken out about their encounter with depression, which, by all accounts, is a very difficult burden to bear in silence. Read their stories here.

Pressures of fame are such that it can gnaw into people if they are not careful. Imagine if every act of yours is under the microscope and everything you say is interpreted by a million tongues. Imagine a life where you have to be perpetually happy and appear to be busy even if you have no work. Imagine pretending with yourself day in and day out in a game that you know will take a toll. The other side of fame and success can be loneliness. Some of the world’s top executives are also the loneliest. A Prime Minister in Norway resigned because he was in a depressed state.

Could Sai Prasanth and Robin Williams have been saved? The answer to that lies in professional hands with doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Science has many answers among which are games that our minds play with us. Sometimes it is just a chemical imbalance that can be corrected with medicines, others may need therapy or a combination of both. “Mental health care is an inalienable right of every Indian and the country’s new mental health laws provide for psychiatric care at every health service provider,” Dr. Sanjeev Jain of NIMHANS in Bangalore told The News Minute in an interview. Read here.

The first step to cure – most mental health diseases and alcohol related conditions can be treated successfully – is a recognition that professional help is critical. Families also have to accept that depression is normal, its treatment improving by leaps and bounds today. Literature shows people who are clinically depressed or are on the verge of taking their own lives give out signals, leave trails in the hope that someone will pick up their cries for help. Society and family is that someone. Silence is not an option. Sai Prasanth, Kalabhavan Mani and Rajesh Pillai have left us a very important message – we owe it to them and millions others to read the writing on the wall.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!

You can also support us with a one-time payment.

Rs 200Rs 500Rs 1500Custom