Understanding Depression

Ever had one of those days when nothing ever goes right? Where a simple task like making a cup of tea or greeting a neighbour goes awry so fast that you don’t even know what you did wrong? Being depressed is something like that, only over a period of time and without the respite of a good day.

When a person is depressed, he or she may not feel they have enough energy to get up from bed or do any of the things that most of us take for granted, like read the paper or chat with loved ones. They might not be able to take care of themselves and yet be ashamed of asking for help, fearing ridicule or criticism. They are tired all the time. They may not be able to concentrate on work/studies/ other activities like they could before. They sleep poorly, eat poorly and are not able to interest themselves in work or in activities that they used to like. To top it all, they have to struggle against the internal voices that run them down and bring up every past failure or misstep as a taunt that serves to stop them from trying anything new.

If you’ve been feeling like this, it isn’t because you are lazy or because you are having a breakdown or “going mad”. You have been experiencing depression. What’s happening may be because of a number of reasons- some to do with your mind and body and some to do with the situation you are in. But the important thing to remember is that it is not your “fault” or “weakness” that you are depressed. Nor can you just “snap out of it” as most friends/ relatives/ well-wishers will suggest. The more that people say things are going to be ok, the stronger your belief becomes that either they don’t know what you’re going through, or they have no idea how incompetent and helpless you ‘really’ are. These thoughts, as you may imagine, would only serve to pull you deeper into the depression and isolate you further from people.

Depression has become so common that it is often referred to as the “common cold” of mental illness. Approximately 12 out of every 100 people globally at any given point of time are undergoing an episode of depression. Sadly, two-thirds of them do not seek treatment and end up suffering. Very few know that depression is also one of the most treatable mental illnesses.

What is referred to as clinical depression by mental health professionals may or may not be the right term for what you are experiencing. One can get depressed at any of life’s major stages or changes – the loss of a loved one, change of residence, loss of a job, breakdown of a relationship, poor marks in exams, criticism from a superior, etc. It is less commonly known and acknowledged that even the so-called ‘happy’ events, such as marriage, birth of a child, going abroad, a child’s leaving home for college, and retirement can cause a depressive kind of reaction in some people. This is harder for the person as well as his or her loved ones to understand.

Neeta (name changed) was one such person, who became depressed shortly after the birth of her second child. The second child was an ‘accident’, born just as the elder one was turning two. It was difficult for her spouse and extended family to understand how burdened she was feeling at having to care for two children at the age of 27 while most of her friends and ex-colleagues were busy carving out a niche for themselves professionally. She couldn’t talk about her problems with anyone because she felt guilty about being selfish and un-maternal, especially since everyone else was so pleased with this addition to the family. She became distant and uncommunicative with her husband. He, in turn, reacted by becoming more involved in his work and thus distanced himself further from Neeta and her daily battle with caring for two demanding youngsters. Fortunately, Neeta was able to seek appropriate help and today she is more able to accept her circumstances. Her husband, too, has learnt to be more active in parenting, so that Neeta can get some “me-time” away from them.

Depression, whether clinical or ‘normal’ is a terrifying and lonely experience for the individual. With the kind of despair that a person undergoes in depression, it isn’t surprising that thoughts of self-harm and suicide (to varying degrees) cross the person’s mind. While most do not choose to act on these thoughts, it is still an intensely painful experience to have these thoughts at all. It is also frustrating and stressful for their loved ones, because they become so hard to reach out to.

A lot of people think of it as a phase that may go away in time. While it is true that most depressions are self-remitting, meaning that they tend to subside in a year to eighteen months, this is not always true. Sometimes, factors in the individual’s life serve to increase or intensify the depression. This is especially so in today’s fast-paced lifestyle where we have limited resources to help us cope.

In depression, it always helps to talk. Only through talking to someone can you sort out the thoughts and dilemmas caused by and further contributing to the illness and to your continued difficulties. Therapy, medication or a combination of the two serve to limit the depressive episode. They also help you become more aware and in control of your characteristic pattern of coping. You are then able to face future challenges in a more flexible and adaptive way.

TalkItOver provides professional counselling and psychological services for individuals, couples and families. If you or your loved ones are experiencing symptoms similar to what is described in this article, you can contact us for more information and help.

Talk It Over


http://sancd.org/uploads/pdf/Depression_fact_sheet.pdf accessed on 2 June 2011.

http://www.depressionindiaonline.com/main/facts_about_depression1.asp accessed on 6 June 2011.

Lopez A, Mathers C, Ezzati M, Jamison D, Murray C. Global burden of disease and risk factors. Washington, DC, Oxford University Press and World Bank. 2006.

Patel V. The epidemiology of Common Mental Disorders in South Asia. NIMHANS Journal 1999; 17:307–27.

Sahoo S, Khess CR. Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress among young male adults in India: a dimensional and categorical diagnoses-based study. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders, 2010 Dec; 198(12):901-4.

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About Gayatri Swaminathan

Gayatri Swaminathan is a clinical psychologist with 7 years of practical experience in the field. She has worked as a trauma counsellor, a qualitative market researcher, lecturer and private practioner. She has an M. Phil in Clinical Psychology and M.A. in Applied Psychology from Delhi University and B.A. (Psychology, Sociology, English Literature) from Bangalore University. She is trained primarily in the cognitive-behavioural approach, but also incorporates other schools of therapy and techniques as and when needed. She works with individual adults, couples, children and adolescents and their families.