Depression: Weakness or Illness?

While depression is a serious medical condition that needs to be treated as soon as possible, most who struggle with it usually find the need to hide it.

The scientific and medical community describe depression as a mood behavioural disorder with the usual symptoms being recurring feelings of melancholia, hopelessness, and irritability, rapid mood swings, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, appetite or weight changes, and sleep disorders like insomnia or oversleeping. Depression can affect any person of any age, with the causes usually being changes in hormone levels, chronic illnesses, substance use, a family history of depression, and underlying medical and mental conditions like PTSD. What makes depression such a hidden danger is that it stimulates thoughts of death, self-harm, and suicide. Fortunately, most cases of depression can be cured by therapeutic treatments, counselling sessions, medications, and various forms of self-care. However, the problem our society currently faces is the stigma surrounding depression that deems it a mere 'weakness' of the mind and prevents people from seeking the help they need. 

"It's all just in your head!" This, of course, is what people often say when the topic of depression is introduced, and one can point out how it is a way of simply dismissing the whole topic as taboo. A lack of education alongside wrongful depictions of mental illness in mass media may further the stigmatisation of the topic, as it makes us believe that only the weak suffer from depression. Throughout our lives, we strive to be perfect in all aspects, which undoubtedly includes people's perception of us. So when something ominous comes our way in life, we are expected to hide in the dark corner of the room and put up a fake smile before others. All this not only increases the feeling of isolation but also gradually leads towards the process of self-harm or non-suicidal-self-injury

Opinions on depression vary from place to place around the world. For most people, it's “not a real illness,” “happens because of a sad situation,” and is a “feminine” disease. In my country, India, a study reveals that about 43% of the total population struggles with depression, with numbers being especially high in teenagers and young mothers suffering from postpartum depression. Familial relation and societal expectation are leading causes of this, and people here often rule out the possibility that depression could be linked to some underlying 'real' health conditions like PCOD, cardiovascular diseases, and kidney diseases. This video discusses how Indians, especially women, neglect treatment for depression to the point that everything in their lives seems vague and meaningless. Another section of the Indian population, however, believes mental illness to be incurable by therapies or medicines, as, to them, it is caused by the intervention of some 'evil spirit'. According to these people, only ojhas or witch doctors can cure depression. 

Whether it is India or the United States, depression is everywhere. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, it's even more so. Researchers found that many survivors of COVID-19 reported cases of PTSD, anxiety disorders, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Studies have also shown that domestic violence, suicidal thoughts, and the prescription of antidepressants have gone up since the onset of the pandemic. Experts have pointed fingers at psychological stress and the body's immune response for the prevalence of post-COVID depression. 

Nevertheless, cancer kills, and so does depression! No matter what the cause of depression is or who is affected by it, we must openly embrace them without ostracising them. Both the affected and their loved ones must fight depression together. Educating oneself about mental illnesses and reading motivational articles about how once-depressed people coped with their struggles help out a lot in challenging preconceived notions of mental illness. Moreover, in order to ease the stigma around depression, psychologists advise people to conceive it in the following ways:

  • A person diagnosed with a mental disorder is not crazy. 
  • People do not choose to be depressed.
  • Depression is not a sign of weakness or laziness. 
  • Reaching out to family members or psychiatrists when feeling under the weather is always an option. 
  • If having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, reaching out to the country/state's respective Suicide Helpline might be of use. 
  • If someone with depression approaches, we should listen to them compassionately, try to understand their problem instead of complaining ourselves, and give them good advice. 
  • We should raise awareness about depression in our schools, colleges and workplaces. 

Through even a little more education and awareness, we will be able to deal with depression and decrease its death rates worldwide. This, of course, is not only true for depression, but also all other world problems.

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