THE GREAT DEPRESSION, MIND IT
By Sanjay Pinto

If bollywood star Deepika Padukone threw the spotlight on depression with her “I had it too” revelation, an Indian author Shubhrata Prakash has made society feel ashamed for stigmatising this mental condition and the medical fraternity to go back to the drawing board and perhaps update, innovate or tweak treatment protocol.

Call it a co-incidence or a twist of fate. I was recently invited to initiate a chat with the Author of ‘The D Word’, Tamil Nadu’s Health Secretary Dr. Radhakrishnan and Psychologist Dr.Mini Rao at Odyssey recently, courtesy the man behind the bookstore T.S.Ashwin.

Murphy’s Law “if anything can go wrong, it will” screams out as you picture a scenario of a young graduate bogged down with medical reports on her heart condition instead of academic notes bang in the middle of her preparation for the most gruelling and competitive Civil Services Examination. While her performance took no hit, the situation got worse. A fortnight  before the final interview, she was wheeled into the operation theatre for a heart surgery. But she breezed through this stage with elan. And courage. And a steely resolve to take life’s battles head on. To be ranked 60 in an all India list was a miracle. In the saddle as an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer and post marriage and kids, Shubhrata Prakash continued to defy the odds. It almost seemed as if God was keen on telling her: “You’re handling stress immaculately. Here’s some more.” There came a time when she broke down, was even scared of herself, diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

With a top cop husband  who had an equally stressful work schedule, this senior Income Tax officer realised that there was “no silver bullet to slay the beast” of depression. In an age of superstition and stigma and quackery and the social media, where everyone is an expert; she sought help, critically evaluated and even titrated her own medication, underwent therapy and bounced back to tell her story to the world. ‘The D Word’ is Shubhrata Prakash’s blow by blow account of depression through her own eyes and emotions. When most patients are embarrassed to be even seen visiting a shrink, here’s a bureaucrat with two kids who has dared to chronicle her own story and research for the world to read.

Flipping through the pages of ‘The D Word’ and anchoring that  panel discussion revived painful memories of my own bout of depression in the late nineties and early two thousand, over a personal issue. It lasted almost three years. I took no medication. On waking up every morning, I would shudder at the task of going through another day. I would end every night with a wet pillow. That I was in a stressful profession of twenty four hour tv journalism cut both ways. It kept me occupied and drastically curtailed  opportunities to grieve. But it also took a toll on my health, pushed up my blood pressure and cholesterol. My inner circle of friends knew what I was going through and displayed unimaginable patience as I would eat their brains off on the phone. They constituted my first line of defence. Some would even jocularly suggest that I cease being a teetotaller, hit the bottle, grow a beard and compose poetry!

I found great solace in books like Dr.Wayne Dyer’s masterpiece “How To Pull Your Own Strings” and Norman Vincent Peale’s “Amazing Results Of Positive Thinking”. But the latter proved tricky as I needed to let go! The prayer: “God, give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference” became my mantra. I even had chats with a shrink friend, not at his hospital or clinic but at a club where he would invite me to grab a bite and an informal counselling session. Counselling helped but like the effect of paracetamol for fever lasts 6 hours, it needed a long term dosage. To the outside world, especially when I would appear on tv through the day and every night, I masked the hurt but on accasions, I suspect, it probably leaked out. I was only in my mid twenties. Throughout those difficult years, I was determined to never let the hurt degenerate into hate. I fought back and I conquered the big D, emerging emotionally stronger, wiser and more mature.

I often wonder why people fight shy of seeking professional help for depression. A drunkard has no stigma when he goes for  treatment of a liver disorder. A chain smoker has no qualms when he checks in for a lung X-Ray. What’s so demeaning about depression, especially when a WHO survey points to 1 in 4 Indians likely to suffer from problems of the mind by 2020? I have mooted the idea of Shubhrata’s impending bestseller being prescribed as a text book in educational institutions, as a PhD topic of research and most definitely a bollywood movie script. Meanwhile, keep shedding those tears. It’s as therapeutic as writing!

(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)