By Rimli Bhattacharya
While I was scrolling through my Twitter newsfeed on 25 June, 2018, a particular tweet caught my eye. It was tweeted by the Ministry of Health and claimed that there are ten possible ways to combat depression.
#Depression is a state of low mood that affects a person’s thought, behaviour, feeling & sense of well-being. One must take up activities that keep him or her boosted in order to cope with depression. #SwasthaBharat #MentalHealth #LetsTalk
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) 26 June 2018
Surprisingly, there was no mention of either a psychiatrist or a professional counselor in that post. The post angered me to such an extent that I decided to pen down this essay. It shows the ignorance of the Ministry (and most people), when they can suggest ten ways to a patient on how to cope with it without considering any professional intervention.
Before I go into details, here are the ten things that our ministry has advised people with depression to follow, so that they can be completely cured of this malady. Follow a routine; Travel; Be creative; Take multi-vitamins; Think positive; Practice Yoga; Stay clean; Sleep for a minimum of 8 hours; Eat fruits; and Go for walks. I would sum up these suggestions as “RIDICULOUS”.
The term, ‘depression’, indicates a feeling of sadness, grief, lack of interest in daily chores. We do have our share of blues but when the problem persists, it is depression and the person needs help. It is not the same as occasional blues or feeling low.
Medical news today provides us with World Health Organization statistics, revealing the grim truth that depression is a major illness worldwide and is one of the main reasons for disability. 350 million people globally suffer from this ailment. Depression is not a mere irregularity like flu but can bring long-term side effects if left untreated. The saddest part is that women are more prone to depression than men.
I would like to highlight certain signs and symptoms of depression to counter the facts suggested by our ministry as a coping mechanism.
- Mood swings: The depressed person remains in a glum state but our ministry suggests that thinking positive can be helpful. Please know that when a person goes into a depressed mode, s/he is in a terrible state of mind, which calls for professional counselling or even anti-depressants under medical supervision. A positive state of mind can be advocated to a person who is in his/her usual state with some temporary sadness or low feelings, but not to someone who is in a depressed state of mind.
- Weight loss (without dieting)/weight gain (overeating): The patient undergoes severe appetite fluctuation. Sometimes they do not eat for days together and sometimes they can go for uncontrolled eating to fight back the low mood. The ministry has advocated eating fruits. How could a person who is unable to think on his/her own well-being make a choice about what to eat?
- Insomnia (loss of sleep)/Hypersomnia (excessive sleep): The Ministry advises 8 hours of sleep. With due respect to the ministry, I would like to say that it cannot be suggested to a victim of depression. One of the major symptoms of any mental ailment is sleep irregularity and depression is one of them. Therefore, it is better not to issue such unsolicited advice without proper knowhow.
- Reduced interest in regular activities/loss of sexual desire: The ministry asks people living with depression to be creative! How could it issue such an irresponsible statement? A depressed person is unable to look at such decisions in the same manner they would otherwise. The term “creative” is subjective and it cannot be imposed on a person who is suffering from depression. The ministry also advices people to remain clean. We do understand the need to maintain proper hygiene but the suggestion seems absurd when the person is struggling with regular activities, let alone bathing and staying clean.
- Fatigue: When a person suffering from depression feels fatigued to such an extent that s/he has difficulty to drag himself/herself out of bed, how will s/he go for long walks? Even those of us without depression often find it hard to maintain a daily routine, after all!
- Restlessness: A person with depression undergoes psychomotor problems, accompanied by restlessness, pacing up and down, panting, breaking in sweats, increased pulse/heart rate etc. The ministry asks such people to practice Yoga. How could people who are already struggling with their mental demons take out a mat and do Yoga? The ministry must stop promoting Yoga at every opportunity.
- Reduction in thinking and inability to make decisions: The ministry suggests traveling. However, travelling involves a clear mind and also incurs expenditure. The person should actually be seeing a doctor, or be prescribed medication when needed, rather than planning for a holiday by the beach or mountains. And why are multi-vitamins prescribed? In fact, no medicine should be prescribed without medical supervision.
Other symptoms include feelings of guilt and suicidal thoughts and attempts of suicide.
As I said earlier, women are more prone to depression then men. NCBI says that women experience specific forms of depression-related illnesses, “including premenstrual dysphoric disorder, postpartum depression and postmenopausal depression and anxiety that are associated with changes in ovarian hormones and could contribute to the increased prevalence in women…The fact that increased prevalence of depression correlates with hormonal changes in women, particularly during puberty, prior to menstruation, following pregnancy and at perimenopause, suggests that female hormonal fluctuations may be a trigger for depression…Nevertheless, primate and rodent studies consistently implicate a role for female hormones, such as estrogen, in depression.”
There has already been a severe outcry against the inane tweet, which misinterprets depression completely. Clinical Depression is a mental ailment with potentially grave consequences which needs immediate medical help. The government should take initiatives to create a situation, where the victim can spell out his/her problem, rather than pushing it under the carpet. When the government advocates/preaches something on depression, it must remember that depression is not just about feeling low. It is a “real illness” and one which needs support in the form of medication, psychiatric help, and a counselor.
The piece first appeared on Women’s Web.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
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