By daring to tell the world about her battle with depression, Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone has done a social service by bringing the spotlight on one of the most misunderstood aspects of mental health. At 36 per cent, as recorded by the World Health Organisation, India has the highest rate of depressed people recorded anywhere across the globe. It also has the highest suicide rate in the world. India needs to address head-on the common misconceptions associated with mental health issues. A large-scale public awareness campaign is necessary to sensitise society towards the subject.
The government also needs to take a comprehensive view of the problem. Its decision to decriminalise suicide bids is a welcome move in this direction. The first national mental health policy, unveiled in October 2014, provides a far more humane perspective to the problem. In taking a wider view, the belief that depression is a rich man’s disease has to be closely studied if only because there are statistics which support this perception. For instance, about 15 per cent of people in high-income countries have said they have experienced depression at some point of time compared to 11 per cent in low- and middle-income countries. However, across all the nations, women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men.
What is important is that compared to the past, treatment is available for this condition that is now recognised as an ailment and not a case of sadness that a person is expected to get over after a time. Worse still was the belief that a person was being theatrical or even hysterical for the sake of drawing attention. Now, not only are drugs available, but psychiatry is also gaining respectability as a medical profession unlike the times when the only posting that a mad men’s doctor expected was in lunatic asylums. Any study should also look at the possibility of how today’s frenetic lifestyles can affect mental stability.