Depression tends to creep up on you when you least expect it, which often makes it difficult to diagnose. It becomes all the more difficult when, like Deepika Padukone, you have all the trappings of success: fame, money, good looks and a supportive family.
Because then no one considers depression as a possible destroyer of your mood. After all, how can someone who has everything be unhappy?
So they label you “difficult” and put your emotional withdrawal or outbursts, as the case may be, to moodiness and temper.
Everyone feels down and out sometimes, but most snap out of it within days. Some don’t, and struggle every day with feelings of listlessness, ennui, guilt, low-self-worth, sleeplessness, appetite loss (or gain), and difficulty concentrating.
Deepika said for her the downer started as a feeling of “a strange emptiness in my stomach”. Like most people, she put it down to work stress and she did what most of us would do: ignore it.
“I thought it was stress, so I tried to distract myself by focusing on work, and surrounding myself with people, which helped for a while… but the nagging feeling didn’t go away,” she wrote in her exclusive piece for Hindustan Times.
“Depression is not always about moping and weeping all day. Highly-functional people can be normal in the company of others, yet be plagued with feelings of emptiness and inadequacy when alone,” says Dr Samir Parikh, head of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Fortis Hospitals.
“They can keep up appearances and function socially, yet feel low and depressed when alone,” he says.
That’s exactly what happened to Deepika. “There were days when I would feel okay, but at times, within a day, there was a roller-coaster of feelings,” she wrote.
Depression affects 121 million people worldwide, estimates the World Health Organisation (WHO). It can affect a person's ability to work, form relationships and often causes physical symptoms such as sleeplessness and listlessness.
Worldwide, more than 8.5 lakh (850,000) people die from suicide each year, which roughly corresponds to one death every 40 seconds. It’s among the top 10 causes of deaths across the world. In India, self-harm is the seventh most common cause of deaths in India, reported The Global Burden of Diseases Study, 2013.
“Ninety percent of people who commit suicide have a psychiatric disorder and 75% are clinically depressed,” says Dr Parikh.
In India, more young women commit suicide in India than men, unlike the rest of the world where men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. One reason for the gender bias is that psychological disorders like depression and anxiety occur more often in women, with the gender disparity emerging at puberty. Social factors such as subjugation of women add to the problem, making many women feel frustrated and helpless.
For successful people, it is often difficult to seek help as it means accepting your inability to cope. Even with family support, Deepika says she took some time to come to terms with her depression.
“Finally, I accepted my condition. The counselling helped, but only to an extent. Then, I took medication, and today I am much better,” said Deepika.
She decided to write about her struggle with depression after hearing anxiety and depression drove a friend to death. “My friend’s death urged me to take up this issue, which isn’t usually talked about. There is shame and stigma attached to talking about depression,” she said.
Depression is an equal opportunity illness that affects people in different forms across ages and social strata. “If feelings of sadness, social withdrawal and listlessness do not go way in two weeks, the person must see a doctor,” says Rajesh Sagar, associate professor, department of psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
Drugs and treatment are a must if the condition is chronic (lasts for more than four weeks), recurrent (bouts of depression occur three four times a year) or the mood interfere with your ability to function normally for more than a two weeks.