Looking at the many faces of depression

In the last two years, we’ve seen bouts of depression among the youth who were particularly in the limelight. Cases in point: musician Zeheen Ahmed, models Risila Binte Wazer and Sabira Hossain were individuals who were bogged down with insurmountable grievances in their lives; so much, that taking their own lives seemed like the only way out of their depression.

It’s not just our country; depression and self-harm are spread out in all parts of the globe. On the western side of the map, we’ve seen a fair share of depression-led suicides. From veteran actor and comedian Robin Williams to Linkin Park’s vocalist Chester Bennington, depression has wiped out quite a few gems in pop culture. This is why understanding the topic is extremely important for adults.

Depression, according to Md. Rakibul Hasan, Socio Counselor at the University of Asia Pacific, is born out of two factors; one being genetics and another is parenting. Where early stages of depression are concerned, it can crop up in children even when they are in their mother’s womb. “If a pregnant woman is depressed, there’s a chance that her child might inherit it too. In addition to that, women also suffer postpartum depression right after giving birth, which can have an effect on the child as well,” he says.

Depression almost always roots from trauma even if an individual is raised in a healthy environment.

From an early age, children are torn between morality and emotions. Certain values like honesty and obedience are thrust upon us, despite our emotions wanting to take a different turn. “Children are often caught between what they should and shouldn’t do. So naturally, they feel a pull from both sides: obeying their parents and caving into their own desires,” explains Hasan.

If the child grows up depriving themselves of their own emotions and only abiding by the norms and guidelines set forth by their guardians, they end up losing their ‘real self’ in the process. The more a child continues to suppress their ‘real self’, keeping in mind the morals that have been passed on to them by their parents, the more they get stifled. Once they cross adolescence and enter adulthood, their surroundings begin to confuse them.

Upon entering adulthood, individuals try to familiarise with the social situation that they are placed in and try to compare the lives of their peers with their own.  Eventually, they come to realise that everything they’ve gathered before, starting from experiences, thoughts, and emotions, none of it reflects their ‘ideal self’. This serves as a gateway for depression because whatever they’ve learned in their childhood doesn’t match up to the reality in their adult lives. This is the onset of early age depression.

Another kind of depression that individuals can fall prey to is one that roots from trauma. Hasan expands that, “An individual may have been raised in a healthy environment that’s devoid of domestic conflicts, but at some point in his or her life, they’ve met with a calamity of sorts. Whether it’s a loss of a loved one or being terminated from a job, they are suddenly affected by anything that results in a major life change.”

Md. Rakibul Hasan is a Socio Counsellor at University of Asia Pacific
Photograph by Eivan Shardar

Where mental health is concerned, parenting plays an integral role, as maximum psychological illnesses depend on how a child is raised. “Our society doesn’t take things like ‘positive parenting’ into account when raising children, unlike first world countries, where couples seek advice from counsellors prior to conceiving a child,” mentions Hasan. Moreover, if there’s a lack of understanding between couples or either one of them is mentally volatile, it will definitely have some impact on the child.

Our society is such that communication between children and parents lacks openness, thus young adults are faced with situations which they fail to share with their guardians. Sexuality and relationships are grey areas in our country, given that schools shy away from providing sex education and parents fail to have ‘the talk’ with their children. So they gradually learn about sexuality from their friends and once they do, they experience anxiety regarding those issues.

Hasan suggests that if parents and children share a mutual respect for one another, the rift between them will surely fade. “When you give a child the freedom and analysing power to choose between two colours, they feel important and respected. In return, they too will respect you with sincerity as opposed to fear,” he adds.

Along with respect, an environment of appreciation is required to cement the relationship between children and parents. “Constantly criticising children only enables them to have interjected thoughts that maybe they aren’t meeting their parents’ expectations. As they grow up, it will manifest into their adult lives, so when they try to do something, they will be constantly be reminded that they’re incapable,” says Hasan.  Instead, parents can nurture and encourage them by taking the ‘no mistake’ approach; meaning that, even if their children make mistakes, they’ll allow them to learn something out of it.

Hasan reckons that clinically there are variations of depression. A major depressive disorder is a chronic illness; main symptoms include experiencing emotions like severe sadness, guilt, hopelessness or shame for two entire weeks. During this episode, the person will not show any signs of euphoria. Another sign is a loss of interest towards leisurely activities the person once enjoyed doing. Additional symptoms consist of losing or gaining appetite, insomnia or increased amount of napping as well as fluctuations in weight.  These symptoms, in turn, affect their productivity; students may have trouble studying and working individuals may experience difficulties in focusing on their work.

Given that there are various branches of depression, it’s important to be able to tell apart one illness from another. Depression and bipolar disorder are often misconstrued as the same condition; however, the two states of mind are not exactly alike. Where depression entails a prolonged period of sadness (two weeks or even two years), bipolar disorder comprises the same thing but with two episodes. “Patients of bipolar disorder will have a phase when they are upset and it will continue for some time, and then suddenly they’ll experience euphoria which is termed as ‘manic’ and ‘mania’ to describe the two poles of extremes their emotions are,” states Hasan.

Although the digital space is teeming with projects and campaigns to raise awareness about depression, the question still remains as to how far we’ve come when it comes to addressing this issue? Furthermore, how much has it truly helped those afflicted with the illness? For anyone caught in the rut of chronic depression, life can be a living nightmare as no amount of social media positivity can turn their frown upside down. “Having chronic depression is a devastating situation as victims have no interest towards life. What’s more frightening is that despite witnessing these things, we draw a conclusion about the person without having a discussion about it. Sometimes there are clichéd views of depression, but aside from that, social media does serve as a positive tool for informing people. When public figures come out and tell their story of battling depression, it not only tugs at heartstrings but also gives them hope that they aren’t the only ones going through this ordeal,” concludes Hasan.