The result of a survey published by the noted medical journal The Lancet last month points to a dark cloud particularly in urban India—the cloud of anxiety disorders. This is not unexpected considering the fact that in the latest WHO report, India stands at 122 in a list of 155 countries surveyed to measure the degree of happiness their citizens enjoy. In a list of 156 countries surveyed in 2013, India was placed at 111. In 2016, India slipped to 118. This trend is alarming.
By the way, some countries with the highest per capita incomes also participated in the survey but did not top the list, justifying the truism that wealth is not the most important factor in normal happiness. No doubt, the state of happiness is relative and its definition often elusive. But the same excuse does not apply to depression. While 50 million Indians are identified as beset with depression, one could reasonably suspect that the number could be greater. The WHO’s sweeping survey must have covered the average cases of “situational” and “endogenous” depression (I presume, not manic or bipolar cases) for which psycho-medical signs are easily determinable.
A survey by our National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, in 2016 concluded that one in every 20 Indians suffer from some form of depression. The disturbing fact is that India is ranked below even some countries that are marked by confusion and turbulence on many fronts. Purely from a pragmatic point of view, such signs are ominous for India, because all new avenues for progress and prosperity in any field of our national life will grow narrower and dim if the human element at the basis of them is drained of enthusiasm.
In the long run—or probably not too long run—the distance between a psychological state of depression and an economic depression may prove to be not too long. Unfortunately, acclimatised to the atmosphere in which we live and to the building up of which we all have contributed, we may not feel surprised at this state of affairs, but detached from it. If we introspect a bit, we should feel shocked more than surprised, unless we have totally uprooted ourselves from the Indian psyche.
In the recorded history of civilisations the earliest work that dealt with the problem of depression is the Gita. Over the millennia past, for generations of people, it worked as a mighty preventive against depression, by generating in them the faith that our life had a sublime purpose and all
the events, happy and unhappy, were experiences contributing to our growth towards that end.
Through the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna we learn that the real cause of depression lay in one’s deviation from one’s Swadharma—the inner law of our being that carries us along the way of our individual evolution—a process that continues through life after life.
If it is not possible to identify that law, we could at least listen to our inner voice, the voice of our conscience. No doubt, that needs effort, to find in our inner self the delight of existence which the surface self of desires could never give, simply because “there is nothing as satisfaction in the realm of desires”. Such ideas sound lofty, but that is what the genius of this ancient nation expected us to do. And the loftier the position, more devastating is the fall. That explains our phenomenal depression.
According to latest research, one needs to cultivate a worthy purpose for living even to have good sleep. But for decades now, we Indians have never bothered to remember that there is a greater purpose in life than discovering shortcuts to wealth, power and pleasure, and that the shortest cut was corruption or such glamorous enterprises that did not care two hoots for our heritage or a collective sense of dignity. For one bribe-taker we the million are there, ready as willing bribe-givers. For one corrupter of culture, we the million are there to argue and applaud.
But we ignore the common sense that no human being is a single entity. When I do something unworthy of a normal decent man, not only does my inner being grow gloomy, but also my ordinary subconscious revolts against it. That is why polygraph, the lie-detection test works. By and by the sorrow of our inner being is bound to react on our surface mood.
The guilt within manifests as depression on the exterior self. During the early years after Independence we were obliged to bear with some corruption and hypocrisy while criticising them. By and by we granted legitimacy to them under pretexts such as ‘that is human nature’.
That was preparatory to our collective acceptance of the practice. The process seems complete; we criticise, we protest, we revolt against the wrongs and having performed that duty through demonstrations and media, we practise it nonchalantly.
A noted psychologist has rightly observed that for the depressed, the first step to recovery is talking to someone he or she trusts. The tragedy is, I hardly trust anybody today. The Gita exhorted me to trust the Divine; it assured me that He alone could protect me from the consequences of all my sins. Now the obvious consequence is my depression, but the other mortal I should talk to is as vulnerable to it as I am. So?
But the old good solution, shunned for long, shines as bright as the old good sun. Once I trust the Divine, by and by I could probably learn to trust the Divine in the other mortal. Is there any other solution?
Eminent author and recipient of several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship