Many Indian women suffer from depression. But women’s health can greatly improve if depression in women is diagnosed and treated properly.
By Melanie Lobo
“The word happiness would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness”, claimed the eminent psychiatrist, Carl Jung, and indeed, sadness is an essential part of life. It is a natural reaction to suffering. Similarly, feeling low or moody is something that every person goes through occasionally. However, there are times when this progresses to a more serious form of depression. This is a medical illness known as Clinical Depression, different from the “regular” sadness one may experience.
A key difference is that these feelings last for a much longer time. Clinical depression will impact a sufferer’s day to day life – whether in the workplace or at home. It can last for weeks, months or even years, if not treated.
According to mental health data from the World Health Organization (WHO), at any point in time, 5-10% of a population are likely to be suffering from such depression. The WHO also states that such incidence does not vary by race or ethnicity. However, gender and age are factors – women are more likely than men to experience depression, while those between the ages of 20 and 40 are more susceptible.
Clinical depression in Indian women: Symptoms and signs
Dr. Sabyasachi Mitra, Consultant Neuro Psychiatrist at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute and Bellevue Clinic, Kolkata states that depression “will definitely affect a woman – mentally, physically, emotionally and sexually.”
Some features that define clinical depression are lack of sleep (or excessive sleeping), tearfulness, short memory power, a lack of energy, concentration or appetite (or conversely, a craving for comfort food) and being in a state of lethargy with decreased interest in daily activities. Others are loss of sexual urge, withdrawing from intimacy, thoughts of suicide or self-harm and feelings of helplessness, worthlessness or irritation.
Of course, the occasional such feeling is not clinical depression – it is only if such feelings become pervasive that the problem needs to be checked out.
The symptoms of clinical depression, according to Dr. Mitra, may also be associated with anxiety. Signs of this are a sense of fear, tremors, palpitations, increased sweating and also a feeling of something stuck in the throat. He is quick to caution that severe depression can also sometimes take on more physical symptoms. Headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple aches and pains may at times be indicative of something more serious.
What causes clinical depression in women?
Dr. Mitra feels that some factors aggravate the risk of clinical depression especially among Indian women. These are:
- (In the case of mothers), the social stigma associated with having a girl child which creates a lack of self esteem and self worth
- Intense psychological stresses on women and
- Increased chances of childhood sexual abuse
Indian women, when they get married, are uprooted from a comfortable environment and have to cope with this transition, in most cases, with a man they hardly know. The next event in their lives is pregnancy and then the bringing up of a child which has its own challenges. Occasionally, there is an extra marital affair (either by the wife or the husband) which presents more stress. These life events coupled with hormonal changes, genetics, stress at work and family responsibilities can all result in depression.
Dr. Sonal.S.Raja, Clinical Psychologist, Apollo Hospital, Bangalore feels that women in India now lack the family support they had earlier, as they live in smaller, nuclear families. Many Indian women, she feels, have no one to turn to and do not want to seek outside help for fear of the stigma associated with mental health issues.
The first step a woman (and her family) needs to take is to acknowledge that there is something wrong. With the help of a doctor, she can then recognise where the depression stems from: work related, family related, time related or from within a relationship. In a study Dr. Raja carried out on post graduate women in India, (some of whom were married), about 39% suffered from clinical depression. Out of these, only about 15 or 16% would come forward to seek help.
Clinical depression can be treated. However, it is important to get medical help. If you feel your symptoms fit those mentioned here, do contact your general practitioner. Once he/she has made a clinical assessment, counselling or psychotherapy may be recommended. This helps to deal with and resolve the depression. The course of treatment usually runs for about 4-6 weeks.
The print and visual media have gone a long way in educating women about depression and the average educated Indian woman is definitely more aware of this illness. Some Indian women, however, still feel afraid to reach out for help. Do remember that there is nothing wrong in asking for help, nor is there anything to be ashamed of about having depression – it is an illness like any other.
Resources and Help for the clinically depressed
Sneha Society for Counselling, Bangalore, ph: 93425 05975, 93421 33520
The Banyan, Chennai, ph: 044 4223 3650, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
VISHWAS Society for Mental Health, Bangalore, ph: 080 2676 2126
JAGORI, a women’s training, documentation, communication and resource centre lists a number of helplines for women in Delhi.
AASRA, Navi Mumbai, ph: 022 2754 6669
The Dignity Foundation (Support for senior citizens)
Mumbai (Ph: 022 6138 1111), Bengaluru (080 4151 1307), Chennai (044 42133002), Kolkata (033 3069 0999) and Pune (020 3043 9100).