Depression is an illness; coping mechanisms differ: Bigbasket's TN Hari

TN Hari, the HR head at Bigbasket, says the pressures of the multiple rat races we are all running in are probably the biggest cause of depression, but 'running away is not a real alternative'.

With nation after nation imposing total lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, the damage to their economies is near total. Extended periods of total isolation, job losses, uncertainty about the future, and debt have all taken a heavy toll on the mental health of people.

Every large crisis causes a spike in mental ailments of all kinds. But mental health or mental illness is something that most people still don’t fully understand.

I have personally never suffered from depression, though like everyone else I too have experienced some moments of intense sadness.

At the point when you experience sadness it seems like the world is ending, but some sunshine is all it takes to lift the dark cloud of sadness. This is how life is for most normal people. A job loss or a breakup can be difficult to deal with, but most normal people eventually manage to handle it and emerge unharmed, and probably slightly stronger.

My mother though suffered from serious depression and a bipolar disorder that got worse with time. As a result, from childhood, I got to see what it was to suffer from depression from very close quarters. At that time, I never had an inkling what her suffering was all about but got to experience the outcomes.

Depression and bipolar disorder were not acknowledged as illnesses until recently. It was common to brand an individual who suffered from these as ‘mad’. In fact, I did think for a very long time that she was mad. Home was not a fun place, and I found solace in academics and sports. I don’t think I ever seriously pondered over what she went through or what I could do to mitigate her suffering.

My goal in life was to escape this situation and step into a better world. However misplaced or selfish the goal may appear in hindsight, at that point of time it was overpowering.

The rat race and its effect on mental health

Depression is often a result of not getting what you intensely desire.  

It is inevitable that a great deal of happiness is derived by external endorsement, but a broader sense of purpose and meaning, along with a slight detachment, is what would keep you grounded and ensure you don’t sink into depression.

Avoiding the rat race, especially in today’s fast paced world, is not easy. In all likelihood, you are likely to sink into another kind of depression by avoiding the rat race. The competitive pressures of the multiple rat races we are all running in are probably the biggest cause of grief and depression.

The attainment of anything that can give you extreme happiness can also result in extreme sadness when it is not attained. Therefore, running away from competitive pressures is not a real alternative just as returning to the beautiful pastoral life of the past is not an alternative to dealing with the ills of globalisation.

It has been my deep belief, based on what I have experienced, that retaining a healthy interest in humanities, including poetry, art, history, literature etc., often equips you to deal with grief, and the setbacks of the rat races, a lot better. Humanities makes you more wholesome and resilient.

Tweeting about your depression is just temporary relief. If lack of attention is a reason for depression, the outpouring of support after the tweet is like a temporary shot of antidepressant. Its effect will wane soon.

‘Look inwards for real relief’

Depression is an illness. You don’t discuss your illness with everyone. Frankly, no one, except a handful of people in this world, really care about you or your well being though many will say all the right things. Think about it honestly, and you would find yourself doing the same thing with your friends who are going through some difficult times like a job loss or a breakup.

The sooner you understand that the answers lie within you, the faster the recovery. While you can find someone who is willing to listen to you, the relief you get out of this is again temporary.

Real relief comes from looking inwards and addressing the way you look at yourself in relation to the world outside.

Like in the case of other illnesses, you need to discuss depression with a competent doctor. It may help to also talk about it with others who suffer from the same ailment, or a few loved ones.

But often, it is more difficult to discuss this issue with loved ones than with a total stranger. And no one can be as troubling as an intrusive loved one. Loved ones may have the right intent but may lack the know-how on handling a case in the wrong manner could inadvertently exacerbate the situation. Having said that, some individuals are able to establish deep relationships where there is space for such conversations. Such individuals are truly blessed.

As the years went by, I began understanding some of the underlying reasons for my mother’s depression, including a few childhood experiences she had obliquely hinted at but which I never understood then. We are hurt the most by the ones we love, and I understood that her case may not have been very different.

Coping mechanisms are differently built for each individual. Some are able to cope better; others just seem to give up.

My mother grew up in rural Karnataka and as an adult was transported to a cosmopolitan township that she could not relate to. She had no one to talk to and that probably made things worse.

The fear of obscurity is a real fear for some individuals who have enjoyed celebrity or near-celebrity status. The harsh reality is that with time all of us will fade away into obscurity. But, if you are not afraid, you may discover new melodies. 

I find these lines by Rabindranath Tagore very inspiring:

“I thought that my voyage had come to its end at the last limit of my power, that the path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted, and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity, but I find that thy will knows no end in me, and when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart…”

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)