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Why Deepika’s crusade to end mental health stigma matters

Sanchita Sharma

It’s been a busy month for actor and mental-health crusader Deepika Padukone, who was one among four global cultural leaders to receive a Crystal Award recently at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, the Swiss ski resort that hosts 3,000 heads of state, industrialists, philanthropists, civil society and celebrities for the world’s most exclusive annual networking party in January.

Padukone, who’s been making headlines in India for her silent support to protesting JNU students and her sensitive portrayal of the acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal in ‘Chhapaak’, is being awarded by WEF for her effort to destigmatise mental illnesses. The other artists getting the Crystal Awards are Lynette Wallworth, Theaster Gates, and Jin Xing.

Diagnosed with clinical depression in 2014, Padukone fought back and sought treatment from professionals and support from her family and friends. In June 2015, she founded The Live Love Laugh Foundation to offer hope to the millions struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

Common disorder

Depression is the most common mental health disorder globally, accounting for around 40.5 per cent of cases, followed by drug and alcohol abuse, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, according to The New England Journal of Medicine.

While symptoms vary, most people with depressive disorders experience social withdrawal, low self worth, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, fatigue, listlessness, poor concentration and irritability. It may affect ability to work, form relationships and function independently, but some high-functioning people may be plagued with feelings of emptiness and inadequacy when alone while they keep up appearances socially.

Everyone feels down and out sometimes, but most snap out of it within days. People need to seek help if the sadness continues for more than two weeks, accompanied with feelings of listlessness, ennui, guilt, low-self-worth, sleeplessness, appetite loss (or gain), and difficulty concentrating.

Though the symptoms can be managed with treatment, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, suicidal thoughts very often stay private. The fear of being labelled “mad” prevents millions from seeking professional support, making depression one of the world’s most undiagnosed illnesses.

Don’t ignore signs

People with mental illness are not alone. Depression is an equal opportunity illness that affects people in different forms across ages and social strata. Mental illness affects 322 million people across ages worldwide, estimates the World Health Organisation (WHO), with 58 million living with depressive disorders in India. More women (5.1 per cent) are affected than men (3.6 per cent), yet women are less likely to seek support and treatment.

Even when women do seek professional help, they are less likely to get treated as the emotional withdrawal or outbursts are more likely to be mistakenly dismissed as moodiness and temper in women than men.

Close to 50 per cent mental illnesses appear by age 14 but signs of depression in young people are often missed because they are more likely to display symptoms of irritability, anger and withdrawal than sadness.

Neglecting signs at times can prove to be fatal. Around 90 per cent of people who commit suicide have a psychiatric disorder and 75 per cent are clinically depressed. One person commits suicide every 40 seconds, with suicide accounting for 800,000 deaths around the world each year. In India, suicide was the 10th biggest cause of early death in 2016, reported the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, mostly because of undiagnosed and untreated depression.

Start a conversation

In India, more young women commit suicide in India than men, unlike the rest of the world where men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. One reason for the gender bias is that psychological disorders like depression and anxiety occur more often in women, with the gender disparity emerging at puberty. Social factors such as patriarchy add to the problem, making many women feel frustrated and helpless.

Drugs and treatment are a must if the condition is chronic (lasts for more than four weeks), recurrent (bouts of depression occur three four times a year) or the mood interfere with the ability to function normally for more than a two weeks.

It’s important to know that people overwhelmed with mental health problems may not know how to put what they are going through in words. Very often, they fear rejection. Starting a conversation breaks down the stigma and encourages people to come out of their dark spaces and seek help from mental health professionals.

(HT Media)

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