World Mental Health Day 2020: Importance of recognising and accepting depression

Dr. Shamsah Sonawalla says, “Over 20% of the world’s population suffers from ‘major’ depression at some point in their lives: that is one of five people globally.”

Over 20% of the world’s population suffers from ‘major’ depression at some point in their lives: that is one of five people globally.

For over a year, 33-year-old Nishit (name changed) had a sinking feeling. He felt that “something was not right”. It started with difficulty falling asleep, decreased appetite, and feeling fatigued and low.  Over a few weeks, it aggravated leading to problems with concentration and memory, and there was a decreasing interest in work, hobbies, and social activities. Slowly, he realized that he was not his former self anymore. Before feeling like this, he was an enthusiastic guitarist but now he hadn’t picked up the guitar in months. His relationships were affected and he began to isolate himself and found solace in alcohol. He felt hopeless and felt life was not worth living for. His sister, a psychology student, urged him to seek psychiatric help. Soon, he was diagnosed with depression.

Dr Shamsah Sonawalla, MD consultant psychiatrist, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre says, “Over 20 percent of the world’s population suffers from ‘major’ depression at some point in their lives: that is one of five people globally.”

Not only that but a World Health Organization (WHO) report cited depression as the leading cause of poor health and disability worldwide and predicted that by the year 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disease burden worldwide.

However, the burning question is what causes depression? 

“One of the most misunderstood parts of depression is that many assume that it is caused due to a weak mind or financial or environmental stressors. Depression is the product of biological, psychological, and social causes and involves an imbalance of brain chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine,” explains Dr. Sonawalla.

It is also to be noted that genes do play an important role that is,  one is most likely to develop this condition if someone in the family has suffered from the same. In short, depression isn’t caused by a certain set of events taking place in your life, they just act as triggers.

Depression can happen to anyone at any point in time.

How do you recognize if you or someone has depression?

Dr. Sonawalla says, “Symptoms include persistent depressed mood, lack of interest in day-to-day activities, sleep, and appetite disturbances, decreased concentration and energy and feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness coupled with an overall belief that life is not worth living.”

Whereas physical symptoms translate into headaches, body aches, and abdominal pain. In more advanced cases, the individual may experience recurrent suicidal thoughts and in some severe cases, may even act on them.

How do you deal with and end the stigma around depression?

Dr. Sonawalla says, “There is a great success with treatments and, like with any disease, early detection and treatment are key. Antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, and state-of-the-art treatments like Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) work well in combination with lifestyle modification. “But more than ever as a society we need to understand that depression can happen to anyone at any given point of time. We need to treat the affected individuals with empathy and compassion and most importantly, we urgently need to do away with the stigma associated with mental illness,” says the doctor.

She suggests that if you have depression, the first step towards getting better is acceptance. “This can be liberating- it makes you more open to seeking treatment, and adhering with your treatment plan,” suggests the doctor. Lastly, she also mentions that families should not be in denial or worry about what other people will think. Make sure that you never blame the one suffering and tell them that it “will go away”. “Instead, be empathetic, supportive and reassuring and encourage them to seek professional help if required,” says Dr. Sonawalla.