Depressive disorders are not only common but also commonly protean, changing its symptoms and form from case to case thus making it the most misdiagnosed/undiagnosed or untreated psychological illness.
Gordon Parker rightly called depression as the common cold of the psyche. The perusal of subjective expressions of experiences during depression has expanded in tandem with the evolution of psychiatry. We have all heard the term feeling the blues or being low, the least an inexperienced person can identify with what it feels like to be depressed.
Understanding The Cause of Depression
However, unlike a plug, one cannot choose to switch the depression off as implied by innocuous yet annoying suggestions of be positive or don’t overthink. The cause of depression may be a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Sitting on the roller coaster of life, all ups and downs may pass but affect each one differently.
Grieving that emanates from life situations is different from depression. The latter often refers to the sad and depressive state ‘without a cause’.
Depression, as a disease has gone through different stages of recognition. From being among the several diseases of black bile as mentioned in greek humoral lore of the second-century C.E as the state of being unwarrantedly dispirited to a dangerous state of ‘devil’s bath’ as called by the catholic church to the better understanding of depression, a mental disorder with many causes, effects, and treatments.
While a mild or transient depression may resolve itself, an intrusive one may need professional intervention and the one that imposes an invisible disability on the everyday life of an individual may need specialist treatment.
According to data by the World Health Organization (WHO),
Mental illness accounts for 30 percent of the non-fatal disease burden and 10 percent of the overall disease burden worldwide, including death and disability.
264 million people of all ages are affected by depression and depression can turn serious leading to suicides. Close to 8 lakh people die every year due to suicide making it the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.
It was the World Health Organisation which estimated that one in seven Indians suffered from poor mental health and labeled the country as the most depressing country in the world.
According to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), every hour one student commits suicide, with about 28 such suicides reported every day. NCRB data shows that 10,159 students died by suicide in 2018, an increase from 9,905 and 9,478 in 2017 and 2016 respectively.
Depression among Students
Depression and anxiety symptoms are reported to be common among school and university students and the trend only seems to be invigorating with myriad factors and situations responsible for the deteriorating mental health. Understanding such factors can be a daunting task because such cases of depression can present themselves in the smallest of life-happenings.
A 2018 study on the prevalence of depression and anxiety among undergraduate university students suggests the factors implicated in the study of depression among students are academic pressure, demanding workloads, financial concerns, exposure to patient’s suffering in the case of medical students, and student abuse and mistreatment. Many factors of college life itself are conducive to risk factors of depression such as high debt, fewer job prospects, and a more competitive environment and demanding academic fields.
Examination of a national sample of clinics on college and university campuses in the United States of America confirmed that among over 53,000 students, anxiety (56% of patients) and depression (46%) were the two most common conditions for which support through counseling centers was sought.
One important observation made by Jerell C. Cassady et al. in the paper titled Predicting Student Depression With Measures of General and Academic Anxieties,
In the current context of increasing college expenses coupled with a challenging post-graduation market, students in higher education may well be at greater risk for hopelessness and depression than ever before.
While psychological and biological factors are important in identifying a depression-prone person, the fear of loss is a vital investment such as education through loan and realization of limitations in learning capabilities or potential in a competitive academic environment may act as a trigger for the disorder to emerge.
Reality of the Virtual World
Social media is also one of the powerful mediums, as good as the users may be. Realities seem to be shaped by virtual worlds of social media users. Indulgence in social media platforms such as Facebook, according to a 2015 study by Edson C. Tandoc jr. et al, Facebook use could trigger envy which further predicted depression symptoms. It was found that controlling facebook envy could also, in fact, lessen depression.
Social media is not the antidote to depression, but as Rabindranath Tagore believed that being socially connected could help mental estrangement that plague-affected-people were dealing in 1918.
Thus, under the present circumstances of mangled economy, competitive environment, and physical isolation, one can still remain connected with the world. Opening up about feelings on social media is a risky task, behind the anonymity of random usernames lies a world of people with judgments and opinions, frustrations and aspirations, just waiting to vent it out irrespective of how it affects others. It is important to be mindful of the people or communities you socialize with.
You may also want to read: Why and How the Social Reward System on Social Media Needs to be Changed?
Letting go of people who pull you down with negative feedback and forgiving yourself of the mistakes you have made is the positive step to confront life without having to go through the existential crisis, for each one has a different philosophy. Every human being is unique yet social connection tells us how similar we are in terms of feeling emotions and processing the world.
The labyrinth of multiple environmental factors is responsible for depressive episodes along with some basic risk factors like biochemistry, genetics, and personality. Depressed students have been found at a greater risk of inclining towards substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, and/or self-harming practices, decreased empathy, and academic dishonesty. This hinders the academic performance of students and the snowball turns into an avalanche leaving one in a situation that requires help and support from fellow students, counselors, and teachers.
The present scenario of coronavirus crisis has further complicated the mental health issues with physical isolation and social distancing, crisis-related news reporting frenzy, and consistent fear and anxiety emanating from the seriousness of the crisis as well as stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. Karastan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Chan School observed that processing of crises by young students is much different than adults and as a result initially students may have been concerned about the immediate impact on their lives - schoolwork and homework- but this has shifted to worries about their own health and their family.
Kay Jamison says,
“People seem to be able to bear or tolerate depression as long as there is the belief that things will improve.”
This calls our attention towards diluting and possibly removing the barriers to not only accessing mental health care but also being increasingly aware of it. The taboos associated with depression need to be overcome in this day and age. We live in a mad world, but the only madness is to suffer in a situation that we can control.
The Tipping Point of Depression
The general misconceptions surrounding depression need to be cast away like somebody appearing normal, or not having the symptoms on display. While some may be able to talk about it, some may push you away actively and some might even go into a self-destructive shell. It can all start with little things that build-up to the tipping point of a serious mental disorder.
The path to healing and a healthy mind can go from counseling sessions, psychotherapy, cognitive therapy to interpersonal therapy and antidepressants. It is the responsibility of peers and parents to help out each other without making a sympathetic incline, but an understanding nod.
The fast-evolving world, generation gap, and emerging issues among students apart from those listed above such as discrimination in India based on caste and religion, questioning merit, actively creating a hostile environment for students, not providing emotional support expected from teachers and the great clash of collective ethics and individual morality.
The last one brings me to the point of clash of philosophies and contradictions within a student who is exploring the world that may not reflect the same values taught at home. Under such circumstances, you need to stop playing with the ancient dichotomy of good and bad, black and white or right or wrong.
It is wise to introspect and find out what you are comfortable with, the principles you can follow without being exhausted, and also keeping your expectation in touch with reality. What is appreciated by the majority in society may not decide the value of what you have, it may not even be valuable. So it is best to follow the path that weighs towards your personality, skills, and happiness.
Do not forget, little things can lead to the tipping point of breakdown, celebrating and dealing with little things in life can help you tip the point in your favor.
Coping Up with Depression
If you can identify with feelings or moods associated with depression, unable to function in your everyday life, and cope with challenges and situations then the first thing a student must do is approach their campus counselors.
Many colleges provide for on-campus psychologists and student counselors. Colleges and schools need to have mental health awareness sessions and also observe students who might need special attention. One size does not fit all so dealing with depression can be difficult and different for each individual but it is definitely worth it.
Here is a small thought that personally eases my worst moments of anxiety,
When the black hole of nothingness looks endless then you must indeed take your train of thought towards the black holes in the universe and from there to the endless universe itself. The enormity will remind you how insignificant the problem is yet its impact will help you realize that you are unique and no matter what happens, as my mother says, “it won’t be anything outside this world”.
The solution exists and moments pass, dealing with depression is difficult but expressing your feelings or asking for help doesn’t make you vulnerable, it makes you stronger than you could think in your worst times possible.
Edited by Annanya Chaturvedi