Tell me what you see when you picture December: is it cold, grey and slightly depressing? Of course it is! This is the image of December that has been painted for us by countless books and movies. Is it any wonder then that this time of the year has come to be associated quite strongly with feelings of depression?
#QueMag spoke to clinical psychologist H’vovi Bhagwagar in the hope of getting to the bottom of this troubling association. After all, if this truly is the season to be jolly, we’d love for everyone to feel just as festive as we do this month.
Depression in India
“It is estimated that 50 million people in India suffer from depressive disorders. About half of these people are likely to be suffering from moderate to severe degrees of depression and are in need of treatment,” says H’vovi.
To put that in perspective, the population of Spain is a little under 47 million. That’s a whopping number of people in our country who are suffering from this debilitating medical condition, and many of them probably don’t even know how to seek help for it.
The Truth is SAD
Feelings of depression around this time of the year aren’t uncommon. Many people have perfectly fine mental health for most of the year, but experience depressive symptoms at the same time every year – most commonly during the winter. This has been proven to be a mood disorder that the medical community has dubbed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Winter, in the northernmost reaches of India, is accompanied by longer hours of darkness. It is this increased time under the cover of darkness that brings about symptoms of SAD in people. However, this doesn’t account for the rest of the country for one simple reason: “Tropical climates typically do not have as much variation in daylight periods. Also long periods of darkness seen in colder climates is not as common in India except in the northern areas,” says H’vovi.
As a result of this, there has been no conclusive evidence that SAD is as prevalent in Indian as it is in, say, the UK or USA. So, if there’s no base for this widely-held belief, then where did we get this idea of December being such a downer?
Have the Movies Been Lying to Us All Along?
“They do show winter and monsoon months to be associated with longing and yearning. Summer is associated with peppy mood, but sad songs are pictured with a rainy backdrop or in dull, cold weather. So the media may have a role to play,” H’vovi offers in explanation.
While the media may well be part of the problem, simply harping on about it isn’t helping anyone. We can stand about and debate about December and depression all day, much like the contentious chicken and egg argument, but that isn’t helpful to those people who are actually suffering from depression at this present time.
Despite things getting better for mental health patients from India, depression is still seen in many places as a nuisance at worst and not the serious mental health problem that it truly is. As H’vovi puts it, “Depression is a medical condition, not simply a state of mind or a choice to be miserable. Depression is more than just “feeling blue” or sad. Sadness is a part of being human, a natural reaction to painful circumstances. All of us will experience sadness at some point in our lives. Depression, however, is a physical illness with many more symptoms than an unhappy mood.”
Be a Friend in Need
Learning to spot the signs and symptoms and depression in a loved one is the first step. H’vovi lists some of the most common behaviours of depressed individuals:
- A sudden loss of interest in personal hygiene
- Change to an alternative, uncharacteristic lifestyle
- Staying in bed for many hours a day
- Loss of energy, always tired, possible symptoms of physical pain
- Systematic alienating of friends and family members
- Uncharacteristic loss of interest and performance at school or at work
- Withdrawal from social contact and social functions
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Comments such as “I am worthless”, “There is no hope of change”, “I never get a break”, “My luck will never change”, “I feel so all alone”, “No one cares about me”
If someone you care about is exhibiting this sort of behaviour, talk to them about seeking professional help. Be patient and gentle with them, because you cannot fully understand the burden on them, but persevere. It might be uncomfortable to talk about this, but it’s important that you do it. They may not know they need help, or they may believe it’s below them to see a professional, but it’s for the best that they do.
How You Can Help Yourself
If you suspect that you may be suffering from depression yourself, here are some things you could do to take care of yourself:
- Get blood tests done for Vitamin D3, B12, Thyroid, and Haemoglobin. Low levels of these add to depressive symptoms
- Exercise – especially walking in sunlight. If it isn’t possible to go outdoors then exercise indoors
- Switch up your diet to include more milk, nuts, complex carbs, protein, fruits
However, if these proactive measures don’t provide you relief, consider a visit to a psychiatrist and psychologist as medical help is usually needed. “Depression is usually maintained by negative thoughts. Therapists will use CBT (Cognitive behavior Therapy) to help the person challenge their negative thinking and replace it with more balanced thoughts. CBT is usually the first line of action for clinical depression and has a high success rate in treating depression. Occasionally anti-depressants may be needed if symptoms are too severe,” is H’vovi’s professional advice.
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