The Other Depression that India needs to talk about

Ishita Guha Roy
Ishita Guha Roy

“Health is wealth”, goes the proverb but is it true only for one’s physical well-being? What about the human mind? The mind deserves to be fit too. Statistically speaking, India not only has the highest cases of diabetes and obesity but also for mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

 

According to the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, 1 in 40 and 1 in 20 Indians suffer from past and current depression. Before breaking that figure, let us first understand what depression, as an illness imply. The National Institute of Mental Health says that:

 

“Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.”

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) pegs the absolute number at approximately five crore or 50million Indians, out which not even a handful seeks medical intervention; making depression one of the leading causes of the increased burden of disease for the country. Anxiety and depression are two major reasons of committing suicide which is increasing at an alarming rate as well. Mental illnesses are difficult to fathom for the affected person, more so with the stigma around mental health; the end result being either living in denial or living without treatment and sometimes, both. The loss in productivity due to such illnesses can be imputed into a greater loss in terms of human and social capital for the economy.

 

The case is more complicated for women who are more likely to suffer from depression then men. Clinical depression often goes unnoticed for the fairer sex due to their own denial or societal pressure and expectations of womenfolk. Post-partum depression is a common illness amongst new mothers but sadly, it is to be dealt by the mother herself (in majority of the cases).

The problems associated with depression and mental health in general revolves mostly around the stigma. The good news is that in recent times, people have started talking about mental health. The first National Mental Health Policy 2014 by the Government of India is one step in the right direction. The policy aims to fight not only the illness but also the stigma, marginalisation and discrimination with steps such as universal access to mental health services, levelling up manpower in the concerned areas, bringing private entities to contribute for a healthier population etc. While it will definitely take time for the policy to be implemented, it can be said that India has taken one step in addressing mental health as a serious public health issue. Given the dismal figures of public expenditure in healthcare, one can only hope for some improvement with the inclusion of mental health. If the expenditure amount fails to increase in the near future, this policy might remain as a half-fulfilled dream.

 

However there are some other roadblocks, the primary being societal stigma.

The government, health officials and other concerned authorities will do their part of the job but what can we do as individuals to combat and keep away mental illness of any form? The fast-paced lives that we live today, it seems that mental stress has become a shadow that stays even without a light source. Well, most of us tend to push the initial symptoms (like overwhelming sadness) at the back of our mind till it becomes too heavy to carry. The following are some important pointers in this journey:

  • The first important step for the population is to understand the difference between sadness and depression. We have a long way to go in this case as most take them to be one and the same thing.
  • The second move should be to acknowledge that like any other organ, the mind too can fall sick at times.
  • The third move is to be compassionate and patient towards the affected.

 

Time has come to break the barriers of shame when it comes to mental health. An unhealthy population  (physical and/or mental) results in losses to the country in terms of increased health expenditure which also includes time lost in medical treatment, loss of human productivity meaning lesser efficiency at the workplace and sometimes loss of potential human capital due to death.

India needs to start talking about depression on a larger scale before it takes an even monstrous form than it already is currently because at the end, the liability is on the entire society. It is we who need to change and accept our differences to become more inclusive and move forward. So, let the conversations flow, let us normalize mental health like any other illness because that is exactly how it is supposed to be looked at- a treatable medical condition.

Ishita Guha Roy

Ishita Guha Roy

Calcutta University.

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