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Depression: A real illness in society

The life of a popular and talented young actor was recently lost to suicide, sending the entire country into shock. He is not the first, and unfortunately, not the last one to succumb either. While there could be a lot many reasons contributing to an individual taking such a drastic step, we often find the roots in psychological disorders like depression. According to WHO, 1 in every 3 people you know would be showing signs of depression. Having said that, it is important to understand what depression means as it is a widely used and equally misunderstood term.

On a daily basis, we hear a homemaker say she is “depressed” because the domestic helper did not turn up, or an employee saying he/she is “depressed” because the monthly target seems unachievable; or where a school going child says exam pressure is making him/her feel “depressed.” This simply reflects a lack of awareness in a large section of our society, and so the term depression, which signifies a clinical problem, is interchangeably used for sadness or a bad mood on many occasions.

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Due to lack of knowledge and awareness about mental illness, the symptoms of depression might go unnoticed. There are a couple of warning signs to watch out for especially if they persist for two weeks or more. Depression most often results from a combination of factors, rather than one single cause. For example, if you went through a divorce, were diagnosed with a serious medical condition, or lost your job, the stress could prompt you to start drinking more, which in turn could cause you to withdraw from family and friends. Those factors combined could then trigger depression.

However, there are a few risk factors that make individuals more prone to depression.

  1. Loneliness – The relationship between loneliness and depression is two-way; lack of social support can put an individual at a heightened risk of developing depression, but during a depressive phase, one feels the need to withdraw and be isolated from others. However, support from family and friends can help individuals from slipping into clinical depression.
  2. Conflicts in relationships – Being stuck in an unhappy, abusive relationship full of conflicts can be emotionally draining and it could increase the possibility of developing depression if not dealt with.
  3. Disturbing life experiences – Drastic unpleasant changes in life, like the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or financial crisis can be overwhelming for some individuals as they start redefining their personal identity around these experiences. A persistent negative outlook towards life and the future also increases the chances of developing depression.
  4. Chronic illnesses – Being diagnosed with chronic illnesses like cancer, arthritis, or heart disease can leave an individual feeling helpless and hopeless. This could further result in development of depression.
  5. Family history – Studies have indicated that depression can run across generations in a family, however, no particular gene can be assigned as to have a role in development of depression. The choice of lifestyle one chooses for himself/herself, coping skills and resilience has an even more important role to play.
  6. Childhood trauma/abuse – Early childhood experiences play a crucial role in what kind of beliefs one holds towards life as an adult. Being exposed to abuse, trauma or bullying in their childhood can make the individual prone to physical as well as mental health issues like depression.
  7. Personality traits – The personality traits one possesses are either inherited from parents or are developed in connection to one’s life experiences. These can shape how the individual perceives situations; for instance, those who are worry excessively or are in state of anxiety more often can be overly self-critical and suffer from low confidence. As a result, it could put them at higher risk of developing depression.

On a concluding note, it is important to know that depression is a serious mental illness which definitely isn’t age or gender or region-specific. Among the developing countries, we as a nation still have a lot to achieve in terms of mental health hygiene. We need to start with creating awareness among the general population regarding mental health and help them overcome the stigma attached to it; making them realize mental health issue like depression is a real problem just like any other physical ailment, say cancer or paralysis, which needs a proper course of treatment by a trained professional. Every individual is at equal risk of developing the illness at any point of life. However, being aware of the symptoms and the importance of seeking professional help can help them overcome the problem. There are various interventions available, from lifestyle changes to medications, from counselling to psychotherapies. No matter which path of treatment they choose, asking for professional help is the first step to getting back to feeling better and enjoying life again. Every small initiative by the government, by society or even at the individual level, can make a big difference and help our country become a depression-less society.

About the Author: Dr. Shambhavi Samir Alve; Ph.D. Psychology, MBA-HR. Founder – Uurja Manifest the Light Within Developmental Psychologist, Arts Based Therapy Practitioner, Clinical Hypnotherapist. Contact +91-7028955579 dr.shambhavisamir@gmail.com                www.umlw.org Address: Officers Mess, Mountain Shadow, Air Force Station Borjhar. Gauhati 781017. Assam

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