It's the Common Cold of Mental Illnesses. Here's Depression, Deconstructed

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), April 11, 2015 | Go to article overview

It's the Common Cold of Mental Illnesses. Here's Depression, Deconstructed


India, April 11 -- The recent crash of the Germanwings flight has brought the spotlight back on depression in the international media. Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz who deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps was suffering from depression. But not all cases of the ailment lead to such extreme behaviour. Closer home, Deepika Padukone has finally brought depression out of the closet.

Globally, one in four people are afflicted by depression, says the World Health Organisation. It means that you could be surrounded by people who are depressed and you may not even know it.

That colleague who has difficulty completing a project on time, your best friend who cancels all social plans since she got married, your sibling whose grades have been falling each semester, your parent who has lately been falling ill way too seriously, way too often. Or maybe even you, if you have been feeling low for a long time now. The good news is, new developments are taking place in the field of depression research even as you read this.

The blues today

Laboratory tests or markers for the diagnosis of depression, just like one would diagnose physical ailments, are still being researched. But the diagnosis and treatment that are available today have become more reliable.

The Freudian method of psychoanalysis - revisiting your life events to understand what went wrong - is passe. Newer methods now exist in therapy.

"One is the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, where we modulate and modify your thinking pattern," says Dr Nimesh G Desai, psychiatrist and director, Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences. "Interpersonal Therapy is another new approach, which recognises that depression often happens because of continuing difficulties in one's relationships. So it helps focus on people's interpersonal relationships and improving those."

When was the last time someone asked you, "How are you feeling?" Not "how are you" or "what are you up to?" But "how are you actually feeling?" Or even "what are you thinking?"

And more often than not, what we are feeling is often intertwined with how we are faring in our relationships with our parents, friends, colleagues or our partner. These new approaches to dealing with depression recognise this need to talk about our thoughts and feelings, and about the complications of our relationships.

Coming to grips

In his popular new book Reasons to Stay Alive, British writer Matt Haig, who suffered from depression at the age of 24, writes about some of his thoughts during his first panic attack, including, "I'm going to die," "I am trapped," and "I will never get over this." But chances are, you will.

To understand depression, the first step is to recognise depression, and to understand that it is treatable. In his book Uncovering Happiness, psychologist and author Elisha Goldstein writes, "When you are depressed, you feel hopeless. But that doesn't mean your situation is hopeless. Here's the thing about depression: It tells you lies. It makes you believe that thoughts are facts."

Senior psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Pattanayak of VIMHANS says, "Traditionally speaking, depression is distress along with certain dysfunctions, like the inability to make a decision or to go to work. Distress without dysfunction is classified as dysthymia."

But clinical psychologist Dr Rakhi Anand, Apollo Hospital says, "Dysfunctionality depends on the severity of depression. People with low levels of depression will be able to sustain their everyday lives, but not necessarily participate in any activity out of interest. You might go to work but you won't be inclined to take up a new project. For everybody else, you'd still be functional, but that disinterest too is a sign of dysfunction and hence of depression."

Mental and physical

Internationally now, there is something recognised as a depression-prone personality, says Dr Desai. …

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