Mending broken minds

Mending broken minds

World Health Day, celebrated each year on 7April, marks the anniversary of World Health Organization (WHO), which was established in 1950.Each year a theme is set to draw attention towards a particular world health issue. The theme this April is “Depression: Let’s talk”.A taboo in many regions of the world, depression will ironically be the most widespread illness of our near future.

With a weight of just three pounds, the most complex and least understood organ in the human body is the brain. However, this intricate machinery heads each and every move in an individual’s lifetime.

A depressivepatient’s mindsignificantlyweighs the perception building up in people surrounding them. Every stepis conditioned to being perfect in the sight of others. Their feeling of happiness is at the disposal of what others have to say.They feeldejected at the happiest moments andsleepafter deep deliberations decideto part wayseven after the most exhausting days. Decision making becomes no less thanbeing in a pool of water for the first time. Inability to eat andlack ofconcentration engulfs them. To say the least, theyview the world through a cracked lens.

When you go bowling, you know you’re in someone else’s shoes.The victims of depression always find themselves trapped in a body foreign to them where everything is darker than the colour black and where nothing seems logical.

Depression, for the healthy,is like opening a thousand years old chest to find a map of an unknown land. All the directions and the slightest of details are there, but you do not recognise the place and hence are incapable of moving. They can show sympathy towards the diseased; they can guess what it feels like, but they will never know because depression only revealsits secrets to those unfortunate enough to experience it.

It is a widespread mistake to confuse depression with sadness. The latter being a temporary human emotion or some other feeling soon replaces the occasional blues. Sadness due to some negative life event is normal but when all is going right, and sadness makes its appearance that is when it becomes a depressive disorder.The tell-tale signs of depression include having a persistently sadmood for two or more weeksassociated with other symptoms like loss of interest, lack of energy, reduced self-esteem and concentration, disturbed sleep, decreased appetite, bleakideas about the future or guilt.

Sleep does not knock on a depressive patient’s door. If it does, then getting out of bed even after hours-long slumber becomes an impossible feat. At times, they lay down only to welcome a heavy mass in their chest. Anti-depressive medications also play a part in altering the sleep-wake cycle. Patients have to face insomnia or hypersomnia, despite many other side effects, for the greater part of the day thus limiting their daily activities.

Just as anaddict’s net castswide,the effects of depression are notlimited merely to the diseased individual rather the people sharingday to day interactionswith such a person are also caught up in this unforgiving whirlpool.

Being “lazy” is the new trend among teenagers today while the elderly have no option but to be lazy because their weak bones andpowerless muscles think otherwise.We have made dear this sedentary lifestyle, andthe repercussions are nothing but devastating.A decade back playgrounds and parks met children on an everyday basis, but now these young eyes have sight only for screens where they experience eventsfanning depression ranging from jealousy-provoking content to suicidal videos to cyber bullying. This unhealthy relationship between a person’s hip bone and the seatit occupies is associated with 25 percent increase in the risk of acquiring depression as is evident by dozens of studies performed in 2014 by Chinese researchers on thousands of test subjects in different continents of the world.

The roots of depression can be found deep inside an individual’s childhood; starting from parental neglect or deprivation to abuse of any form (physical, sexual or mental) to bullying in school. Later on,any event from losing a loved one to childbirthto menopause, any consequential life event can precipitate depression. Belonging to a low socioeconomic class might trigger developing feelings of jealousy towards the privileged which when prolonged persuades depression to make an appearance.

Interestingly the human brain itself does not have any pain receptors and thus cannot feel the slightest of pains yet depression, being a mental disorder, causes immeasurable pain and agony to the patient.

Medications and therapy (behavioural and electroconvulsive) are like a double-edged sword having both good and bad sides. Let us dwell on the more natural and benign modalities. Things as simple as eating the right food (evidence supports salmon and tuna which contains omega-3 fatty acids and spinach and avocado which contains folic acid), going out for a walk (which boosts endorphins, the feel-good chemicals), busying the mind in some routine activity and most importantly “trying” to keep negative thoughts at bay can give tremendous relief to the patients.

The most distressing situation is when the patientis unable to find the reason for his/her persistently depressed mood. At times,they makethemselvesbelieve that theyare perfectly fine,still,at other times fiddletheir brains in search for the answer but fail to grasp anything substantial. This is a never-ending battle between the patients and themselves and can be attributed to genetic and hormonal factors.

For the many who seek refuge in suicide, it is not that the ideation of death suddenly startsto seem appealing, in fact, it is their only escape. Like beingon the top floor of a burning building and the only escape is the window.

Bullets have left guns slower, this disease is climbing the hike at an incredible pace and needs to be countered on a war footing. The society we live in hassadly refused to acceptdepression as a disease and has falsely labelled it ashameful moral inadequacy thus making it a lonely battle for the patients.Parents can protecttheir children from the threatthat is depressionsimply by giving love and due time to their children. Raising awareness on public platforms, making the depressive patients feel they have someone to count on, taking out time tolisten andshowing patience and compassionare the only way forward.

The writer is a doctor based in Islamabad. He can be reached at