The following is an opinion piece by a concerned campus resident on the sudden surge of optimistic posts in the wake of the recent suicides at IIT-M. A different take has been presented and the views are entirely of the author.
Just after this incident in IIT-M, I see a flood of blog posts and articles urging people to realize that they’re not worthless. That situations can improve. That despite your failures you can still succeed.
But, think for a second, will this have ANY effect on someone who is depressed?
To understand how a depressed person feels, imagine going around life wearing blue-tinted glasses; everything you see will be in shades of blue, despite the reality being totally different. Beliefs function as similar mental filters. All incoming information is “colored” with the belief itself. Successes are discounted as “lucky” incidents and failures reflecting your incompetence. Dear ones only love you “because they’re obligated to do so” and those who reject you reaffirm your undesirability. Your acts of helpfulness are “what anyone else would have done” and your acts of selfishness confirm your immoral nature.
This is a vicious cycle. As you keep on noticing more information confirming the beliefs and neglecting the information that contradicts them, the beliefs keeps on becoming stronger. Slowly it trickles down in your life. Your thoughts become colored for the worse, and hence your actions too. You stop getting up in the morning and making an effort, because “it won’t make a difference anyway”. You lose interest in activities you liked earlier, thus becoming worse off at them. You isolate yourself from people; making all but a few of them think of you as a weirdo. Like self-fulfilling prophecies, your beliefs (which started out as false) have now become true!
Enter Society. Now you also have to face the pain of being labeled as weak or sentimental when you’re already suffering from beliefs of worthlessness. Great. You are told to “keep a stiff upper lip” and “get over it”. Even those who empathize with you will tell you to just distract yourself and try to make you see the silver linings.
Okay, out of character now. Stop and Think about the times this may have happened to your loved ones and how you reacted to it.
Done? I hope you get my point now.
I agree that seeing the positive side of things and not ruminating over problems are good mental health strategies, just as exercise and a healthy diet are definitely good for your health. But would they cure an illness? Do you really advice someone with cancer to just exercise and eat healthy food? Or just “get over” their fever? NO, right? You take them to a hospital, get them checked and have them take medication and the best possible treatment. A “normal” fever might indicate a simple viral infection or it might be deadly influenza! But you wouldn’t attempt to diagnose that on your own, would you? Similarly, there may be a fine line between depression and plain old blues. But you’re not the one to decide.
Mental illness, then, should be left to the experts. Psychiatrists who have spent their lives scientifically studying mental illnesses and treating them. Although people’s skepticism of psychiatry is somewhat justified – given its controversial history of advocating therapies with little, if any, empirical evidence – modern psychiatry involves the use of effective medication and empirically validated therapies like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Today, psychiatry can rightfully claim quick and effective treatment for depression which is based on science.
We need to get rid of the stigma of going to a psychiatrist and accept a real problem that’s in front of us. If you know someone who’s having serious mental problems or you are going through a difficult phase, get help, consult a psychiatrist. It may turn out to be nothing serious, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
It’s high time we acknowledge mental illnesses as serious illnesses, which are “out there” and not just “in your head”. To solve a problem, we must accept it first. Ignoring the problem only aggravates it. Trivializing only worsens it. It’s ironic that we insist on modern medicare for all our maladies but rely on traditional wisdom and aphorisms when it comes to the very thing that defines us: Our minds.
Written by Parth Sharma
Pictures’ Courtesy: Edward Honaker