“Look at a discussion on depression as you would the LGBT movement,” says Dr Senthil Reddi, Additional Professor, Department of Psychiatry, NIMHANS, Bengaluru. “Lots of people have had different orientations for many years, but only when prominent people came to the fore did it allow for the whole movement to really move forward and reach its legitimate conclusion: for people to be acknowledged, for their rights and privileges to be recognised, and for changes at the policy level.”
He says that celebrities started the movement that is now carried forward by heads of Government, before gaining acceptance at the home level. “Celebrities who have become spokespeople for depression or any kind of mental illness have been role models to people in recovery,” he says. Rekindling a discussion on the subject is important: Janet Jackson did it in her recent interview with Essence, and Deepika Padukone does it for us today.
When you started The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF) three years ago, what was your vision for it and how has it evolved?
I wanted to reach as many lives as possible and to bring about as much awareness as I could, and to save people from going through what I went through. Because just identifying what you’re going through and understanding it and coming to terms with it, is in itself an exhausting process. For me, understanding what I was going through was half the battle won. I wanted to make that process easier for people around me, who were going through a similar experience. Awareness is the most important need in the process. I lived with it for two to three months and it took me a couple of weeks to identify it, but it was divine intervention, because sometimes people tell me they’ve lived with it for years.
What has your mental health journey been like from 2014?
It’s a constant process of taking care of yourself. So the experience has led to a lot of self-awareness and that allows me to keep a check on myself, my health, my breathing, my thoughts.
What are the tools that your doctors helped you with?
I would avoid getting into that space, because they may be different for different people. But broadly, a better lifestyle. From an urban point of view, the quality and how much people sleep, exercise, or the thoughts that our energies revolve around. For rural India, it would be very different. For me, exercise is not an option — it’s a part of lifestyle.
In hindsight, did you see any obvious triggers?
No, it just comes out of nowhere. I have been someone who has taken very good care of myself. I’d had a great year; there was no need for it to have happened. But it could be one thing or a bunch of things. Today, when I make time for myself for a couple of hours in a day, I don’t do it with guilt, because I know it’s coming from a place where I need to do that for myself. It’s very important to do things for yourself, to take care of your health — I don’t only mean physical health; mental health too.
Where do you plan to take The Live Love Laugh Foundation?
I think we are geared up for the next phase and I see us scaling. The area we are working in won’t change — awareness and stigma are going to take many years to go away, but I see us having a global presence.
The right communication
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare offended by tweeting about depression, describing it as a “state of low mood that affects a person’s thought, behaviour, feeling and sense of well-being. One must take up activities that keep him or her boosted in order to cope with depression”. While everyone balked, it isn’t uncommon for people to say and do the wrong thing. Dr Shyam Bhat, Trustee, The Live Love Laugh Foundation, tells us what to say and do.
What to say…
“I’m here for you.”
Tell them that they are not alone. Tell them that you are there to support them.
“This is not your fault.”
People suffering from depression often feel inappropriate guilt and this can worsen the anguish. Remind them that it’s not their fault, and just like any medical condition, this can be treated and cured.
“Can I help you with your therapist’s/doctor’s appointments?”
All too often, in our country, people have to seek professional help alone. Support your loved one in getting professional help and remind them of their appointments. Support them in their journey of healing.
What not to say…
–> Don’t use trite or evident statements like ‘Be Positive’. A person suffering from depression wants to be positive, but they just can’t help feeling sad. Telling them to “be positive” is like telling a person with an ankle sprain to stop limping and start running.
–> Depression is not a luxury, a weakness or a choice, so avoid statements like “Snap out of it.”“It’s all in your mind.” “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Or worse: “Relax, have a drink, and forget about it.”
What we can do…
–> Approach with acceptance, compassion, empathy and be emotionally supportive.
–> Listen without judging or trying to solve the issue. Listen to understand.
–> Encourage your loved one to get help. Help them consult a psychiatrist or psychologist and support their treatment decisions.
–> Help them stick to some sort of daily routine. Spend time together at home, if he or she does not feel like going out.
–> Take threats or casual mentions of death or suicide seriously. Don’t assume the person is trying to get attention.
What we shouldn’t do…
Advising a person suffering from depression using our own personal experience
Depression is not just passing sadness. They will not be helped by motivational talk. If a person has symptoms of depression, then professional help is required.
Ignoring talk about suicide
About 10% of people suffering from depression die from suicide, and almost 90% of those who commit suicide had a mood or other disorder. Don’t be afraid to ask if you are concerned about possibility of suicidal thoughts; talking about suicide doesn’t plant the idea in the mind.
Discouraging professional help
Consulting a psychiatrist is not shameful or scary. We accept medical help for conditions such as diabetes or a prolonged fever, and similarly, we must encourage treatment for depression.
Those in distress can call Sumaitri at 011-23389090 or Sneha suicide prevention centre at 044-24640050