In the past two months, we have been witness to quite a few celebrity suicides. Sushant Singh Rajput, his manager Disha Salian, IAS officer Vijay Shankar (who was implicated in the infamous IMA fraud), Tik tok sensation (and 16 year old) Siya Kakkar, TV actor Manmeet Grewal and many others, whose deaths did not grace the pages of any newspaper, but caused an equal amount of grief to their near and dear ones.

Post the Sushant Singh Rajput incident, I happened to watch a forwarded video of a so called  “motivational speaker” who was confidently proclaiming how the actor would have survived if he had built up his will power to combat the depression!

Despite depression being known as an illness like any other, there seems to be a difficulty in processing it as such. Many of us find it hard to distinguish between sadness, boredom and the clinical entity of depression. The word “depressed” is used freely as common parlance. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why we feel that we can get rid of it by distraction, addiction or building on the famous “will power” rather than consulting a doctor!

Unfortunately, even patients suffering the disease do not understand it. From the outside, they look absolutely the same, albeit losing the twinkle in their eyes and the smile on their faces. There are no external signs of bruising or anything specific like fever or an low blood count of serotonin. Recognizing it as an illness is difficult, both for the individual as well as for the relatives. Because of this, many suffer in silence. Many take help only when it becomes unbearable. And a few succumb to suicide.

This is sad, because it can be treated effectively. In an illness like cancer, the person who successfully combats it, is given a badge of “cancer survivor”, which gives him a sense of self worth and confidence. But in the case of depression (or any other mental illness), the survivor often lives with a lasting sense of shame and guilt for having succumbed to it in the first place, thanks to motivational videos like the one I mentioned above.

The video probably had its heart in the right place, but went wrong in the execution. If called a video to improve mental resilience, it would have worked. But if a person suffering from depression would listen to it, he would have felt more miserable than he had already been. The video apart, I meet  attendants of patients who end up saying exactly the wrong thing in an attempt to help out. Again, the right intention, but wrong execution.

A few of which I have mentioned below.

  1. You can use your will power to get rid of it.

I bristle every time I hear this, which is quite often! Humble bragging about their own will power and inadvertently dissing the patients’s , these relatives do not realize the damage they are doing. We need to realize that will power and depression are completely different things. A person with an enormous amount of will power and resilience can also be a victim of depression, which occurs due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.  No more and no less. Telling a person with depression that they are losers because they possess no willpower is likely to make them more upset and depressed. It definitely does not help. Just lending a sympathetic ear, and guiding them to the nearest counsellor or psychiatrist would help better.

  1. You will get addicted to antidepressants.

Every mental health care professional has stories of clients who have reached the clinic late because they believe the psychiatrist to be a person just waiting to get them hooked on and addicted to some drug. People end up taking home remedies, try obscure treatments, resort to taking over the counter pills, visit temples and Godmen by the dozens, but are not willing to trust a doctor who has actually studied about and treated depression.

Yes, treatment for depression is usually taken for longer than a five day course of antibiotics. But done right and under the supervision of a qualified professional, it is possible to stop the medication in many instances. In many cases of mild depression, treatment is also possible with only psychotherapy and counselling. Most cases need a combination of both.

To lose precious time and energy on a disease which is draining, to say the least only for the fear of getting addicted to medicines is not worth it in this day and age.

The better option would be to consult a mental health professional and read up sensible literature about the illness. Discussion regarding the treatment options, length of treatment, the effects and the side effect of medicines can be made with the doctor to make an informed choice.

So, definitely stop advising a depressed person to stop going to a doctor and instill the fear of addiction in the individual.

  1. What is there to get depressed about?

Most people believe that there needs to be reason to suffer from depression. They find it difficult to fathom why a person with everything going right for him would feel low. And make it a point to say so. Multiple times. To their face. Occasionally going so far as to tell the person that he/she is ungrateful for feeling depressed when life looks so good.

The depressed individual, who had opened up about his feelings in the hope of getting help, either shuts up or sinks lower into the depths of gloom.

Depression occurs because of chemical imbalances in the brain. There may be reasons which trigger its start, but not always. Depression is painful even when it happens to the rich and famous. Their problems might seem trivial in comparison to those of a victim of child abuse or abject poverty, but the pain that they go through is genuine.

“ There are so many people out there with worse things happening to them…..”  kind of consolation, is not something which would help. A better way would be to listen nonjudgmentally and assure your wholehearted support if they do need it.

  1. Do NOT tell anyone.

This is common with children or patients who are about to get married. Many parents, well wishers and occasionally counselors themselves advise the patient not to reveal that they were depression survivors, for the fear that it might either label them or make them lose marriage prospects.

In saying this, we are actually telling the individual that what he/she  suffered, is something to be ashamed about or something that brings down their worth as a person. I am not saying that the patient has to talk about his depression every time he opens his mouth, but that it should be easy for him to talk about it, no holds barred, when it comes up as part of a conversation.

Only when we talk more about it, will the stigma come down and normalise the way we think about depression. Just the way we do not cringe when we talk about the tummy ache we suffered. Talking about depression will also help people who are scared to voice out their problems to address them without shame.

Yes, it may put off a few marriage prospects, but it will definitely allow the person to live with his head held high. And marry into a family which values his mental health and is able to understand him better. A win win situation for sure.

Mental illnesses are better understood and accepted in the society than they were before. But we still have a long way to go. We may not be able to recognize or help the person suffering in our midst, but we definitely need to know what NOT to say or do to make them feel worse!

About the Author

Preethi Shanbhag


My name is Preethi Shanbhag. I am a psychiatrist and a mother. In my free time I love to read, write, travel and cook.

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