“There was a phase in my life when I was really depressed…. I felt directionless, aimless, always on edge, lost… I don’t want to sound like a poor little rich boy but it can happen to anyone,” said Karan Johar, one of Bollywood’s best-known directors with several blockbusters to his name, including Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and My Name Is Khan, in an NDTV interview.
He’s the latest Bollywood star with all the trappings of success -- fame, money, good looks - after Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh to fess up to depression and urge others to face up to their inner demons and anxiety.
“When you’re 44 and you’re lonely, you’re not in relationship, you don’t want to grow old alone, you don’t have kids, and you wonder what your life is going to be and all the success you might get, and all the love and attention that you get, where does that go?” said Karan Johar, in the NDTV interview.
“Because you have to take it somewhere. And when you don’t have that love to share with somebody, you get worried.”
Things came to head when he had an anxiety attack two and a half years ago.
“It is a recent kind of anxiety I have discovered about myself. At one point, I thought I was having a cardiac arrest but my doctor said it was an anxiety attack. I then met a psychiatrist and took medication. And this was just two years ago. I stopped my medication just three months back,” he said.
Lonely at the top
Johar, 44, angst about loving and living is shared by millions of Gen Xers and millennials who have it all but feel something’s missing from their lives.
We’ve all felt it – the cloying dissatisfaction that makes you helpless, sad, unhappy and want to stay in bed and not meet people. If it persists for more than a couple of weeks, it’s likely to be clinical depression that should be treated using counselling to understand the issue and antidepressant medicines such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
“I stopped feeling excitement and happiness. There was lack of sleep and I was always on the edge,” he said.
Medicines worked for Johar.
“I needed medication... first it was much stronger, then we slowly weaned it off and it’s just three months ago that I actually stopped it all”.
Signs of depression include feeling low, sleeplessness, eating little too little or too much, avoiding people and losing interest in things around you.
“It got to the point that I was taking comfort in sleeping in long-haul flights and waking in city where I did not want to meet people and could be alone with my thoughts,” said Johar.
“Depression drives people further into themselves and can end in an anxiety attack, a nervous breakdown or therapy and anti-depressant medication,” says Professor Rajesh Sagar, department of psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Back on track
“Depression can express itself in a range of symptoms, but everyone goes through highs and lows, treatment should be sought if the symptoms become chronic, recurrent, frequent or disrupt your life,” said Dr Sagar.
A staggering 7% of India’s 1.3 billion people suffers from some psychological disorder, with close to 3% needing treatment, shows data from the National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences. If untreated, it can lead to self-harm.
Worldwide, one person commits suicide every four seconds, leading to an estimated 880,000 self-inflicted deaths each year. This puts suicide among the top 10 causes of deaths across the world and the seventh most common cause of deaths in India, reported The Global Burden of Diseases Study, 2013.
More than 1,30,000 people in India took their own lives in 2014, shows data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Relationship issues were the biggest trigger, followed by mental illness.
Like all disorders, it’s important to catch and treat the disease at as early as possible.
“Signs of childhood depression are often missed because the only symptoms may be listlessness and anhedonia, the medical word for an inability to enjoy experiences that give others pleasure,” said Dr Samir Parikh, chairman, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare. “In still younger children, the signs of depression are crying, clinging to parents, irritability or aggression.”
Diagnosis and treatment can put your life back on track.
“Medicines don’t have to be taken for life. Often, six months of treatment is enough, so people should not fear medicines,” says Dr Sagar.
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