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Depression and suicide: Some ‘controversial’ facts, some straight talk and why only ‘talking’ will not help anyone with depression

Depression? Mental health issues? It is time we stop sweeping these topics under the rug and start talking about it.

Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput died of suicide on Sunday, the 14th of June 2020. He was reportedly suffering from depression and was receiving treatment for the same for the past six months. With his suicide, mental health has started to receive renewed focus and the topic is being hotly debated across social media platforms.

Given the extent of debate around depression, a lot of false information is often passed as Vedic Truth and an aura of myth has developed regarding the whole matter. For instance, it is often claimed that depression is due to chemical imbalances in the brain and it is beyond the ability of the individual to control the situation in any manner. It’s simply not true. Therefore, let us have an honest discussion regarding the whole thing.

Effects of lifestyle on Depression

It is one of the most contentious topics about depression and hence, one of the least discussed. But the fact of the matter is, lifestyle impacts the mental health of individuals greatly. Consequently, modifications in lifestyle could vastly improve the mental health of individuals suffering from depression.

Australian researchers documented in a study that physical activity, or the lack thereof, has the potential to affect the risk factor of individuals with regards to depression. Consequently, improper diet could also result in depression. They say that “a range of lifestyle factors are involved in the pathogenesis of depression”.

The researchers advocate what they call ‘lifestyle medicine’ which involves the “evidence-based adoption of physical activity or exercise, dietary modification, adequate relaxation/sleep and social interaction, use of mindfulness-based meditation techniques, and the reduction of recreational substances such as nicotine, drugs, and alcohol.”

While the researchers make it clear that further study is required for the adoption of this particular technique but there is a growing consensus in the medical fraternity that adoption of a proper lifestyle can help patients of depression recover from the disorder. For instance, those with obesity are recommended that they attempt to lose weight, which consequently improves their self esteem and hence, their mental health.

The greatest risk that depression poses, however, is that it creates a self-perpetuating cycle of unhealthy lifestyle where a depressed individual fails to lead a normal lifestyle which in turn gives more fuel for the illness within. Therefore, it is extremely important that this cycle is broken in order to help the person recover fully.

Substance abuse can lead to Depression

According to experts, as much as 30% of people who are addicted to tobacco, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs also have clinical depression. And this is not entirely unexpected. Addiction can significantly lower one’s self esteem which then has the potential to lead to depression. At the same time, depressed individuals could also develop addiction. Therefore, they should be wary of consuming addictive substances. And it is probably a good idea for everyone to stay away from addictive substances or, at least, exercise moderation in consumption.

Some controversial facts about Depression

Studies indicate that women suffer from depression much more frequently than men. Certain studies also indicate that married individuals in the lower income category are at lower risk of developing depression than unmarried individuals, although the difference is not significant among people with higher incomes. At the same time, other studies demonstrate that single individuals are at a higher risk of depression than their married counterparts. The reasons for this is unclear.

Studies also indicate that religiosity is linked to depression with higher levels of religiosity leading to less risk of depression. There are enough studies that demonstrate that higher levels of religiosity acts as a protection against depression. A study on the health of veterans showed that stronger the religious beliefs, lower the risk of mental illness including PTSD, alcohol addiction, depression and suicidal ideation. Another study demonstrated that maternal religiosity and mother-offspring concordance acted as protection against depression in the child.

Other studies have demonstrated that religiosity and participation in religious rituals both acts as a protection and helps individuals recover from depression. Studies that involved the use of psychedelics for the treatment of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety reported that individuals felt better after they were exposed to the drugs when it was used in a ceremonial setting. Researchers said that it added to the growing body of evidence that deeply spiritual and mystical experiences have healing effects.

Therefore, when after cases of suicide, people reach far-reaching conclusions such as the need to completely reorient society and disrupt social norms and blame ‘oppressive’ society for depression and suicide, it is better to take a cautious approach and delve into the heart of the matter instead of advocating such radical measures.

Professional help should be sought without hesitation

People may get tired of hearing this but they hear this a lot because it is a good idea. If people suspect that they are depressed, seeking professional help is the proper way to proceed. At the same time, it is advisable that depressed individuals do not rely on medication and therapy alone for recover. There has to be personal effort involved to get better.

At the same time, depressed individuals ought to be aware that anti-depressants can generate suicidal tendencies, therefore, if they experience any adverse effects, they ought to contact their doctor immediately. And once they decide to take the medication, they should stay the course and complete the dosage in its entirety. Otherwise, it could lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Some straight talk on Depression

Without going into too much of ‘intellectual’ sermons, there are some measures that individuals can undertake in order to protect themselves against depression. First and foremost, human interaction is important. Technology may well be much more entertaining but it could never act as a substitute for humans. Human interaction is extremely necessary for our own sanity.

Humans have evolved over thousands of years with close interaction with other human beings as a necessary condition. If we deprive ourselves of it because of our fascination with technology, it will have adverse consequences. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that excessive social media use is linked to depression. Therefore, people ought to interact with other human beings in adequate measure.

Secondly, participation in religious rituals and festivals should not be discouraged. It is one of the few things that are genuinely known to help against depression. Also, the institution of marriage itself should be protected given we know that unmarried individuals are at higher risk of depression.

Healthier lifestyles should always be encouraged. It does not take the IQ level of Einstein to realise that bad lifestyles have bad consequences. Obesity should not be normalised, as some individuals have taken to do in recent times, and people should be encouraged to consume a healthy diet.

While it is normal for people to encourage others to be empathetic towards those suffering from depression, it does not appear very smart for the near and dear ones of depressed individuals to develop an indulgent behaviour towards them. It might be controversial to say it but it is true. Depression is not an excuse for terrible behaviour and should not be considered as such.

When people come to know of a suicide, people, with genuinely good intention, say that depressed individuals can talk to them anytime they want without inhibition. While such an approach is advisable for near and dear ones, it is probably not a very good idea for people to throw such invitations to strangers.

Firstly, they are not trained to offer counselling to depressed individuals and secondly, they might unknowingly end up saying something that adversely impacts the mental health of the concerned individual. Also, there are malevolent people out there who could use depression as a ruse in order to initiate a conversation. Thus, it is infinitely more advisable to recommend strangers on the internet that they confide in someone they trust, someone in the family or friends with in real life.

To depressed individuals, I would say the same. Most people on the internet do not actually mean it when they say that you could always talk to them when you are feeling low. And it is not smart to talk to strangers on the internet about things that make you feel depressed. Family and friends are the people on should rely on for support when you are depressed and feeling low.

Causes of Depression

Unlike popular belief, Depression is usually a consequence of a combination of factors. Social, psychological and genetic factors often combine to cause depression in humans. People with a history of trauma or depression in the family are at higher risk of suffering from depression themselves. In that respect, depression is not so different from some other psychological disorders.

Researchers have identified specific genes that make individuals more prone to ‘low mood’. Research also indicates that the hippocampus in the brain is smaller in people with depression than others. In addition to this, there are various biological factors that are involved in depression. And it is only to be expected.

Studies also indicate that emotional trauma makes people vulnerable to depression throughout their life. Subtle changes are often produced in the brain as a consequence of such trauma which account for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Apart from trauma, medical conditions can also cause depression in individuals. As per some estimates, medical conditions may account for as much as 10-15% of all cases of depression.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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