Dr.Shivani Salil

I’d look on the brighter side…….If I could find it

Eeyore (Winnie the Pooh)

Nothing can describe depression in a simpler and yet such a precise way. Depression is like living in a body that fights to survive with a mind that doesn’t cooperate. It’s brave enough that such people go on with the businesses of life when actually they feel lost. Probably the worst part about depression is that people who don’t have it, just don’t get it. Unlike physical illnesses, mental health problems are surrounded by misinformation and hence taken rather lightly. With physical ailments no one says reflexively, “Oh it’s just cancer, you’ll snap out of it. You probably ain’t trying hard enough!” Unfortunately depression is not something you can shake off. In fact expecting them to move on when they can’t, compounds their problem. Not only do they have to deal with the illness but also the guilt of not doing anything about it.  Their loved ones don’t take it seriously until it’s too late. They are not even spared in death and accused of being irresponsible to have committed such an act of cowardice.

The many layers of stigma that stick around depression need to be removed considering the epidemic proportions this illness has reached. This taboo makes us blind towards the suffering of our loved ones. The patients are either themselves unaware as to what’s wrong with them or they end up hiding it lest be mocked at.

Let’s try and put an end to their silent misery and be armed against this subtle, silent killer before it adds more casualties to its list. Awareness of the symptoms helps in seeking them out and early detection translates into early recovery. Look for the following symptoms and if a person is showing even half of them, he/she needs help.

    Irregular sleep pattern and that can mean both insomnia and increased sleepiness. Often the person describes it as getting up and not feeling like getting out of bed.

  • Low energy levels and chronic fatigue. Patients are lethargic and unable to perform their usual tasks. It often irritates the coworkers and family especially because often they cannot correlate it with depression.
  • Disinterest in hobbies. What used to be enjoyable for them no longer excites them.
  • Weight loss or gain accompanied with change in appetite. Often there is a drastic change in weight (>10% of their original weight)
  • Lack of concentration, difficulty in focusing their thoughts on the task at hand.
  • Inability to make decisions even the simpler ones.
  • Change in speaking style and movements. It could be an unusually fidgety behavior with a fastened speech pattern or slow movements and low whisper like speech. In fact because they are inaudible they are often ignored.
  • Guilt trips and a feeling of worthlessness is classical so much so that they hold themselves responsible for anything going wrong around them even if they have no connection to it. It’s almost as if they are looking for blame to put over their head.
  • Unkempt appearance. They seem to pay no attention to their clothes and often do not remember or want to take bath. It is convenient for the onlooker to label the person as tardy whereas the problem is so much deeper.
  • Suicidal thoughts. They think about it often and may even have concrete plans on how to go about it. Some even go ahead and act on such thoughts with disastrous consequences.
  • Aura of sadness as if it has percolated deep down in their psyche. Some may be able to create an illusion of normalcy and happiness but the sadness is palpable. One just has to scratch the surface to make it apparent.

Depression is an endless tunnel and a person who is suffering from it is like a child lost in that tunnel. If we can associate that imagery with a depressed person, we may be more empathetic. They need someone to hold their hand and lead them out of it and one should feel no shame whatsoever to seek professional help. A continuous depressed state of mind needs focused therapy that friends and family are not capable of providing even with the best of intentions.

It is heartening to see more and more celebrities come out and talk about their dark phase. Not only does it take away some of the bad rep that mental illnesses carry but also gives hope to patients and their family.

Elizabeth Gilbert has so aptly described it:

When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.