Two years ago, 30-year-old Neeta Rastogi (name changed) suffered from post-partum depression soon after the birth of her son. She felt hounded by negative thoughts and thought she wasn’t being a good mother or wife for her family.
“Six months after her delivery, Rastogi started getting suicidal tendencies. She couldn’t tell if it was day or night. She started hallucinating about being in a long, dark tunnel with no light. She was surrounded by negative vibes to the extent that she thought she wasn’t able to take care of her baby,” said Dr Mrinmay Das, senior consultant, behavioural medicine department, Jaypee Hospital.
Rastogi now dreaded the prospect of joining her office post her maternity leave and resisted all efforts by friends and family to help her. Finally, a house help was hired to take care of the baby and Rastogi started seeing Dr Das for counsel.
“She came to me after 10 months of delivery, in an extremely vulnerable state. We started her counselling on a weekly basis and she described her difficulties, fear, stigma and other negative aspects. Soon, we got to know that she had gone through a troubled childhood. We recommended her antidepressant pills to cope,” said Dr Das.
After six weeks of therapy, a confident Rastogi returned to her work and family life with positivity after overcoming her mental illness with medical counsel and support of her husband.
Like Rastogi, millions of people across the world suffer from depression but are often unable to recognise and acknowledge the mental health problem due to the stigma attached to it. For World Health Day this year on April 7, the World Health Organisation (WHO) too has chosen ‘depression’ as the theme. According to a WHO report, five crore people are suffering from depression in India itself.
“The most important aspect is to acknowledge the problem, only then can we begin the counselling. Often, we hesitate from seeing a specialist due to the stigma attached with mental health. That is why so many people are unable to overcome depression,” said Dr Das.
Recently, the Lok Sabha also passed the Mental Health Bill 2016, which apart from decriminalising attempt to suicide, aims to provide mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and ensure that they live a life with dignity by not being discriminated against or harassed.
According to medical experts, depression can be caused by multiple reasons at different stages of life.
“There is no single causative factor as various genetic, biological and psycho-social factors interact to play a role in the aetiology of the illness. An imbalance in the regulation of a neurotransmitter called serotonin in the brain is correlated with depression across all ages. Many psychological and social stressors such as trauma, loss of a dear one, difficulties in relationship, and life challenges can be a trigger for a depressive episode,” said Dr Samir Parikh, director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Health care.
Experts say the family and society should catch early symptoms of depression.
“Lack of interest in eating, working or communication with people are some of the common symptoms of depression. Today, in India, 33% people have been affected by depression at some point of time in their lives. It is crucial that these symptoms are recognised and properly dealt with,” said Dr Sunil Awana, secretary, Indian Medical Association, Noida.
Experts also believe that it is equally a society’s responsibility to fight depression and celebrate mental health.
“One needs to provide support, empathy and a listening ear to patients of depression. We must try and empathise with the person and try to understand what he/she is going through. We must encourage the depressed person to seek the support of mental health experts to ensure adequate intervention and prevent adverse outcomes,” said Dr Parikh.