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Fighting depression: The faceless enemy

Actor Robin Williams’ death was tragic and heartbreaking, and quite ironic as well. A comedian who devoted his entire career to making people laugh ended his life due to depression. Songwriter Chester Bennington of Rock band Linkin Park committed suicide for the same reason. His death sent tremors in the world of music, but what came next was more concerning. After his demise, his wife Talinda Bennington tweeted a family video showing the musician playing with his children. The famous songwriter showed no signs of depression. “This is what depression looked like just 36 hrs b4 [sic] his death,” Talinda wrote in the video caption.

Unlike transient emotions like sadness, happiness or anger, depression has no face. In Bennington’s last recorded memory, he looked happy. No one could have imagined he was depressed or that he would surrender to the agony. No wonder, depression is considered an elusive, faceless disorder that often remains hidden beneath the many layers of the human mind. It’s almost impossible to understand the kind of dismay, guilt, or anxiety someone could be carrying within through a superficial interaction.

The fact that most people in depression refuse to talk about it doesn’t make it any easier to identify the problem or help them. Bennington too took a while to come out in the open about the chaos in his mind. Talking about his dark days and the toll depression took on his life, Bennington revealed in an older interview: “I literally hated life and I was like, I don’t want to have feelings. I want to be a sociopath. I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to care what other people feel like [sic]. I want to feel nothing.” Then, there are those who, through their inadvertent actions, give out clear signs of depression, such as resorting to substance abuse.

Sitting in the abyss of depression is perhaps the most debilitating experience for a human being—to acknowledge it, to come to terms with it, and to address it takes every ounce of courage one can muster.

So, how does one help those who are dealing with the monster of depression? Studies suggest that the key is to enable and allow the person to express freely what they are going through. While professional help is critical, a friendly chat with a friend or a loved one can do wonders. When buried under a mountain of sadness, sometimes, that’s all one wants—words of encouragement and warmth, or simply a hug. Letting them know they have support is a good first step.

What about times when the person refuses help? What’s paramount then is to tread carefully. Says Mumbai-based Psychiatrist Hemant Mittal, “We need to choose our words carefully when trying to counsel a person in depression. Educating ourselves before addressing the situation is paramount.” Dr. Mittal advises strongly against the use of phrases such as ‘it happens’, ‘it’ll get better’, ‘it’s all in your head’. They are likely to do more harm than good.

He further adds that generalisation and clichés can reinforce depressing thoughts in a patient and send them into a downward spiral of feeling hopelessness and worthlessness. Criticising or micromanaging a depressed person can cause further damage, evoking suicidal thoughts in the patient.

Many people lose their battle against depression every year. According to WHO, 800,000 suicides take place every year across the world due to depression. These lives are lost largely owing to the absence of timely help or due to the ominous signs getting lost in the clutter of day-to-day activities and conversations.

Sitting in the abyss of depression is perhaps the most debilitating experience for a human being—to acknowledge it, to come to terms with it, and to address it takes every ounce of courage one can muster. For this reason, it’s the unconditional support from the world around that helps wage this war. In the end, it is only love, understanding and empathy that are capable of lighting up this darkness we call depression.

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