They battled depression as students. Here’s how they won the fight
Every hour, a student in India commits suicide. Read four true stories about what it feels like to be at war with yourself and emerge victorious.health and fitness Updated: Apr 13, 2017 20:42 IST
‘IT STARTED WHEN I CAME OUT TO MY PARENTS’
Laksh Arora, 28, social media manager
I was studying for the GMAT in 2012. The pressure was mounting; I was also going through a painful break-up. I had not planned to come out to my parents as gay, but I blurted it out one day. Everything went downhill from there.
I couldn’t get out of bed; I would cry every day. I had always had a cool image on social media, so I thought it would be demeaning to show weakness... but when I finally sought help, nobody mocked me.
They didn’t react well. I felt like I had dug my own grave.
I couldn’t get out of bed; I would cry intensely every day. No one knew what I was going through. I, a well-educated, well-spoken person who people thought was very cool on social media, thought it would be demeaning to show my weaknesses.
Soon, I couldn’t bear to look at the fan. Each time I did, my heart would start pounding. I never attempted suicide, but there was a time when I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Thinking about hurting myself became a habit and a constant battle with your intelligent self — how can you think this way?
I reached out to my friends. They spoke with my parents, who took me to a shrink.
She helped me through. Yes, a few things were difficult, she reminded me, but I still had a lot going for me.
Professional help is key, but so is the support of those around you. My friends would check in on me periodically. Nobody mocked me. When you’re depressed, you need to meet people, especially when you don’t feel like it.
Coming out can be complex, but I now have a good relationship with my parents. I’m reasonably successful. I have had long-term relationships. Those thoughts come back once in a while, but I’m strong enough to smile and sideline them. I feel like a winner.
‘I WAS BULLIED IN COLLEGE’
Nandini (last name withheld on request), 28, marketing executive
Depression first hit me during my postgraduate studies. I was living away from home for the first time. I missed Delhi and found it hard to relate to anyone in Pondicherry. I isolated myself and would stay in bed all day.
My roommates thought I was weird. They made up stories about me. I couldn’t get out of bed for days, but no one bothered. And then I heard of a former classmate who took their own life — this really shook me. I realised that the difference between doing it and not doing it was a thin line.
The other female students wore salwar-kameezes and I wore jeans and T-shirts, so they formed opinions about me. I also liked to travel solo. So they bullied me, spread hurtful rumours calling me a slut and making up stories about seeing me with men.
My roommates thought I was weird. I would miss class, not get out of bed for days, but no one bothered. I saw friends whose lives seemed perfect on social media, and that made me feel worse. Study pressure was getting to me. And then I heard of a former classmate who took their own life — this really shook me. I realised that the difference between doing it and not doing it was a thin line.
In my second year, I got a new roommate who was more supportive. I adopted a kitten, and taking care of something other than myself really helped. Times with him were the happiest.
Acknowledging the problem is the biggest step. I’m still recovering; I still see a therapist, but I’m a lot better now. Keeping busy is the best cure. I work through the week, and run a successful blog in Bengaluru over the weekend. Submerge yourself in doing what you love. It’s a constant process of rediscovering yourself. Get help. Start with anonymous counselling if you must.
‘MY HOBBIES SAVED ME’
Tushal Mangl, 29, author
I studied hotel management in Shimla, my first time away from home. I was feeling isolated and the pressure of our hectic schedule made things worse. I couldn’t cope.
The Indian education system does little to support students. The focus has never been on them. No one cares to notice which students are adapting well and which ones are depressed or lonely. This, I think, is the prime reason for a number of student suicides.
I went through some troubled times, but what helped was taking refuge in my hobbies — reading and writing. For someone else, it might be painting or football. Stay loyal to your hobbies. This is vital for students, who often dump them as soon as school is over. Stay in touch with something that makes you happy, and gives you purpose.
‘I LOST MY FATHER, AND UNRAVELLED’
Aamit Khanna, 40, corporate communications executive
My father died when I was 18, and it took me a long time to get over it. I have three sisters, and his pension was just Rs 4,000 a month.
It got so bad, the slightest incident would send me into panic mode. My friends lost interest in me, the negative guy. But as the man in the family, I felt I couldn’t or shouldn’t talk about my weaknesses.
(Shutterstock / Photo for representation)
Stress levels were high, and I was exposed to drinking and smoking very early. My first bout with depression began at 21, and I self-prescribed anti-depressants — slowly increasing the dose.
I would mix these pills into drinks, and became addicted to them. Insomnia set in. I was tired all the time, irritable and angry. I barely scraped through my BSc finals. I had become completely aimless. My immunity dropped and I was often sick.
As the man in the family, I think I felt I couldn’t or shouldn’t talk about my weaknesses.
It got so bad, the slightest incident would send me straight to panic mode. My friends lost interest in me, the negative guy.
I realised I had to weaned myself off the pills. I started seeing a therapist, but I couldn’t afford regular sessions. I found help online, from people who were older, and from countries where awareness about depression is greater.
A retired nurse from the US told me lifestyle changes would help. They did.
I started to wake up at the same time every day, and exercise. My immunity improved. I started eating healthy; gave up alcohol and cigarettes. Soon, I could think clearly and deal with small issues again. I motivated myself to work.
All these years later, I feel like a brand-new person. I am no longer angry, I feel positive, and I can resolve issues without blaming others. I will never drink again.
A key takeaway for me has been: don’t disconnect with your family. They can bring you much peace in your later years.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROBLEM
Fear of failing their course, isolation and loneliness, substance abuse, a failed relationship, problems within the family — these are the top causes of suicide in India, in the 18 to 29 age group.
And, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2015, one student in India kills themselves every hour. Maharashtra tops the list of states with most student suicides (1,230 in 2015), followed in quick succession by Tamil Nadu (955), West Bengal (676), Madhya Pradesh (625), Karnataka (597).
It’s a problem rampant across the country.
“The Indian education system does little to support students emotionally,” says Tushal Mangl, 29, a writer who battled depression as a college student. “No one cares to notice which students are adapting well and which ones are depressed or lonely. This, I think, is the prime reason for a number of student suicides,” he says.
Dr Samir Parikh, director of the department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi, would agree.
“On campus, we need mass awareness campaigns that are sustained,” he says. “First, define to your students what depression is; next, have trained experts accessible and available.”
There is still a stigma associated with seeking help, and colleges must work to normalise this, adds Dr Rajesh Parikh, director of medical research and honorary neuropsychiatrist at Mumbai’s Jaslok hospital. “The first step is recognising the problem.”
Instead, in Kota — that town in Rajasthan famous for helping young students crack the high-pressure engineering and medical entrance exams — a hostel association has proposed ‘suicide-proof fans’ with springs and sensors.
“This is absolutely cosmetic, and lends authorities a false sense of security,” says Dr Rajesh Parikh. “It’s a mild deterrent. If someone is motivated to kill themselves, they will find other ways.”