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Dealing with depression

How to help young people cope with the blues

The morning of April 23 began with a front-page news report stating that another IITian had committed suicide on the campus. His friends claimed that he had been depressed for a few months. The report showed a timeline chronicling suicides on Indian Institute of Technology campuses over the past year. This young man should have had a promising future, yet what had his life amounted to? Surely, it was worth more than serving as a mere statistic for the next timeline.

It is a tremendous leap of faith for a depressed person to talk about his or her suffering. They fear being judged or just dismissed. Most often, all they hear from a parent or friend is, “It's going to be alright.” This approach would be ‘alright’ if it is followed up by exploring a route map to restoring normalcy. The word ‘alright’, however, is just used to package the whole event and brush it under the carpet. As a society we are equally to blame for depression leading to suicide. We will forget this death till a new suicide comes along, reported alongside a longer timeline enlisting dates and college affiliation.

The popular misconception is that depression is a lifestyle disease and the luxury of an indulgent few. Nothing could be further from the truth; students, professionals and housewives are likely to experience depression at some point in their lives. We are always taught to gloss over any unpleasant episode. It could be a bad examination grade or a friendship turning sour. The repeated advice is to ‘move on’ without processing or acknowledging how we feel. These repressed feelings accumulate over time, and when we are least expecting it, debilitate us.

The most unsettling fact about depression is that you cannot rationalise why you are feeling a certain way. To compound the problem, it is often not a permanent phenomenon, paying random visits for months or even years. You could have woken up feeling okay, yet, a few hours later, you just want to be alone or cry in the confines of your apartment. You are in an environment where everyone is working towards their goals, yet you are in a state of suspension after being pulled out unceremoniously from your previous trajectory. As the days progress, a feeling of worthlessness encapsulates you; you question your purpose and the need to live. And standing at the precipice, you decide that death might be the preferable option.

Sometimes well-meaning friends will say, “You can indulge in retail therapy, that’s always helpful,” “Wear bright lipstick,” “Listen to peppy music,” or “Come have dinner with us.” It would be a lot easier if any of these suggestions helped a depressed person. They achieve the opposite: the tips heighten the surreal contrast in his or her life.

The primary cause for student depression is stress. We celebrate academic success, the perfect score and GPA, the high rank in an entrance exam, and the award-winning project. Every failure is also scoffed at to the extent that even a small deviation from what is considered successful is accompanied by a feeling of shame and disappointment. Take the case of students who have topped every school exam, won medals and aced the entrance test. Placing them in an environment where they might not be the best anymore or where they could get an average grade, leads to their being insecure, questioning their abilities, and feeling inferior to their peers. Add to this the filial pressure to appear always perfect: land the best job or get the prestigious scholarship from a top-ranked university, and you have the formula for stress-induced depression.

My friend, a psychology major and student counselor, prescribes as part of a weekly exercise, a daily log listing out every emotion of a patient along with any explanation for why he or she might feel that way. During follow-up meetings, she would focus on instances when a sinking or helpless feeling could not be attributed to a causative event. She found that tackling those episodes helped her patients the most.

Depression can be cured by going to a counselor or taking prescribed anti-depressants, or a combination of the both. It is imperative that every college campus have a psychological services centre staffed by counselors specialising in fields such as relationship issues, academic stress and grief management. It is still anathema for Indian families to accept counseling as part of a treatment plan to fight depression. The frequently heard refrain is, “What will other people think?” The truth is that depression is an illness, and just like parents would take a child to an orthopedic physician to treat a sprained ankle, they should be able to encourage a child to see a certified therapist when he or she is suffering from mental illness.

The time has come for us to be more attentive to the way our friends or peers feel; one non-judgmental conversation could be the starting point for someone in distress to regain lost equilibrium and consult a psychologist, and could eventually save a life. — Krithika Chandrasekar


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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 3:51:04 PM |

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