QUEEN’S ROAD:A few days ago, when actor Deepika Padukone made her battle with depression public, it brought to focus how hard the struggle to hold on to a sense of self is. Especially for those always in the public gaze and dealing with the complex nature of what the world perceives as success.
Actor Dia Mirza, known for her equipoise in public life, says, “The highs and lows are always very extreme in our industry. To find a balance of any kind, you need positive influencers in your immediate surroundings. Often a solid family support system makes a big difference. But I still believe that no matter how strong the external support, one has to find an internal balance to survive the challenges of urban life. I lived on my own for the first eight years of my film career. Running my home, working late shifts, tedious travel schedules left me feeling desolate, drained, moody and even lost at times. Meditation came as a life-altering experience at the time. Then came the unmatched power of gratitude and the combination has held me in good stead. I feel all of the above even now but the feelings are transient.”
Family counsellor and therapist Meer Haran Alva points out that fame brings with it its own unique set of issues. Says she, “A famous personality may often adopt a different persona in public. A lot of splitting of identity happens and sometimes the authentic self gets lost beneath the veneer. Often famous people forget just who they are. Take the example of Robin Williams. A lot of comic talents have a sad and dark side they keep hidden from everyone.”
Though Deepika’s confession may have put the spotlight on the ironical nature of fame, depression stalks its victims indiscriminately. Independent editor and writer Kalpana Shah applauds the courage it takes for any person to acknowledge that they or someone they love has mental health issues. She says, “For many years, I hated my father because after his business failed, he did nothing but sleep all day while all of us worked round the clock to keep the house running. In hindsight, I understand that he must have been terribly depressed. If he had received the right medication, who knows how life might have turned out for him and for all of us. Nothing should stay in the closet, especially not depression or any mental illness. We Indians hide too many things in the hope that they’ll just disappear.”
Deepika also confessed that she took medication to help herself through days when even waking up in the morning was a challenge.
And though experts are divided over the mixed signals this statement sends, Kalpana says, “If medication is to be taken, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in going for it. Of course this has to be done under supervision. Too many lives are ruined because people are ‘ashamed’ to admit that they or their loved ones need medical help.”
Counsellor M Sreedhara Murthy doesn’t believe that the star’s coming out about her problems will help other people. People often assume that the rich and the famous have all the comforts in the world. While that might be true, they often suffer from loneliness. ''Until people feel that they need to speak out about depression or other mental health problems that they are faced with, nothing will change," he says.
He refers to a case: “A software engineer had severe depression. He had been admitted to a hospital I consult with and was on suicide watch. His family got him discharged against the doctor’s advice, and the parents came to see me after a few days. They said, 'His wedding is fixed in a few months, and since he’s taking medication, can he have children?' So I asked them if the bride-to-be knew that he was under treatment for depression. They first evaded the question, saying they are relatives, so it’s all right. But it turned out, for all their apparent closeness, they hadn’t let the bride’s family know.”
Talking of medication, he says, it has to be administered carefully.
“Even to contemplate suicide, you need some will, and severe depression means paralysis of the will. So people with such depression are given medication, get better and commit suicide. So they have to constantly be on a suicide watch.”
Medication helps deal with the symptoms, but it’s just one of the three components of the treatment. “It helps deal with the symptoms, but to get to the cause of the problem—they feel, ‘Nobody likes me’ or ‘Everybody hates me’—you need counselling and psycho-social intervention,” he adds.
Hospitality professional and blogger Rachna Tiwari recalls how she confronted depression with a combination of therapies, “About 10 years ago, I was seeing a counsellor to handle anger-related issues. One day, I could not stop crying after a small argument with a colleague. It was like I was trying to leak away my sadness. She recommended a psychiatrist who diagnosed a mild to moderate depression and put me on meds. I had almost stopped eating and lost about 10 kgs. I couldn’t sleep and could not get out of bed in the mornings. I could not afford to lose my job so I had to get there any how. But there was this one day when I could not get up and my frantic boss called to check if I was ok.”
This was a warning signal for serious intervention. Says Rachna, “It took me almost one year to come out of it. I took a break from work but it became better because I was determined to not succumb and become a victim.”
She did not want her family to suffer along with her and says, “Depression, mood swings and anger issues can be unfathomable to those who don’t suffer from them. And that is why a depressed person usually has low self esteem and confidence issues. They become brooders and isolate themselves from people.”
Fame or the lack of it has little to do with mental health as most of the times the root of depression can be traced back to genetic history, repressed trauma and assorted unaddressed issues.
Alva agrees, “In depression, no treatment is one-size-fits-all. Medication takes care of the symptoms of depression but one must dig deeper to know its root cause. Also it is important to know just when a state of mind can be termed depressive. We all have depressive thoughts but when those thoughts come in the way of normal functioning, we have an issue. Depression also varies from reactions that stem from coping in the face of a loss to genetic predisposition. And treatment can vary from narrative therapy (separating the person from the problem and encouraging them to rely on their own skill sets to minimise the problems), cognitive behavioural therapy (a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave), psychodynamic therapy (here, the focus is on revealing the unconscious content of a patient’s client) and family therapy (where the entire family is counselled).”
She also says that one must never undermine the struggles of a person just because he or she seems to be living a charmed life. “Deepika may be a celebrity but that does not make her less human than any of us. Whether it is her or anyone else, the important question to ask is, ‘do people have the language to address their mental issues?’ We need to normalise the conversation about mental health and if Deepika wants to do her bit in this area, more power to her. We need to recognise that there is no stigma in being depressed. That depressed people are not weak. Every life cycle brings with it a certain emptiness and if a person gets clinically dysfunctional, they should seek help.”
She says, it is a good thing that a conversation has been initiated in a public space and if it helps more people to reach for help, it can only be a positive step.
(With inputs from Shyama Krishna Kumar)