World Health Day, which is celebrated on April 7 under the World Health Organisation sponsorship, is a global health awareness day. It gives us an opportunity to raise awareness and mobilize action around a global health topic. In 2016, the theme was diabetes and for the theme for 2017 is Depression: Let’s talk. Depression can be described as a state of aversion and low mood that can have an effect on a person’s behavior, feelings, thoughts and overall well being. According to the latest WHO figures, over 300 million people are suffering from depression. Diagnosis and treatment of depression requires a professional and when it comes to mental health, Dr.Gitanjali Natarajan is one of the leading figures. Dr.Gitanjali Natarajan is the HOD of Clinical Psychology Department of Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi. She has done her M.Phil in Clinical Psychology from the prestigious National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore and has a PhD in Clinical Psychology. On the occasion of World Health Day 2017, we had a one-on-one with her about some important mental health issues.
As a psychologist, what are the challenges you face or any tricky case you can think of?
Often people come for quick fixes for the problems in life. I feel amazed by how much stress we Indians can endure and still pull on without feeling depressed. As a practicing Clinical Psychologist, I have felt more challenged by the variety and severity of psychosocial problems clients have than by depression or other psychological problems people present with.
People often confuse sadness with depression. Can you tell our readers how to differentiate?
Depression is pervasive low mood, and depression that lasts for two weeks or more, is diagnosed a depressive disorder. Depression is more than sadness. It is a state that involves the body and mind; the body feels weak and depleted of energy, there are changes in our immune and hormonal levels, accompanied by feelings and thoughts that are negative and pessimistic about oneself,others and life in general. Sadness is only one of the many symptoms of depression.
Also, it may be easier to identify immediate reasons that make us sad, whereas, reasons for depression may be multifactorial and often beyond our awareness.
When should a person be alarmed that he/she is facing depression?
I would rather see depression as an alarm that tells us there is something wrong, within us or in our environment. An alarm that tells us to slow down, introspect and make changes so that we are heading in the right direction. For instance, the girl who is depressed since she got engaged, needs to reexamine and find out what is not right instead of diving into a bad marriage.
Is it in one’s control to prevent depression? How?
As human beings, it would be fundamentally wrong to say that anything is absolutely within our power to prevent or control. However, there are some things that we can do to reduce the risk of depression.
- Understanding and accepting oneself as unique and gifted.
- Maintaining good relationships that give us stability and help us grow.
- Being flexible and open to new experiences.
- Strong belief that everything ultimately happens for the good.
- Engaging in regular activities that provide excitement, happiness and fulfillment.
- Taking good care of our body- healthy diet, adequate sleep and rest, exercise and safe sex too, if possible.
Is depression also genetic?
Genetic vulnerability is one of the many causes of depression.
Does depression recur?
Depression can be recurrent. However, taking psychotherapy and learning to overcome depression can prevent relapses to a large extend.
Tips for the family members or friends of the depressed person to deal with the situation.
Be nonjudgmental and supportive. Direct them to a qualified and licensed mental health professional for help at the earliest.
What do you think will help students in maintaining mental health?
Clarity in their goals.
Choosing careers that they have an aptitude in.
Being cautious, as young people are often impulsive and high on risk taking.
Keeping an open mind to parental anxiety and advice, instead of brushing it aside as “generation gap”.
Being tolerant to failures, knowing life is a long journey of opportunities, with ups and down.