by Indu Partha, @indupartha
Bollywood “it girl” Deepika Padukone caused quite a stir recently when she came forward and spoke about her struggles with depression and anxiety.
But wait, I thought beautiful people are happy all the time, right? If you look good, you should always feel good, right? Or how does someone like her suffer from depression? She should just appreciate what she has and she won’t be depressed, right?
Clinical depression is not a choice. It is not a simple case of mind over matter. Just as one can’t just “will away” diabetes, many cannot overcome depression or anxiety without “outside help.”
When Deepika spoke out, many were left wondering how someone like her, who presumably “had it all,” could ever feel low. Or alternately, how dare she feel low when life has been so good to her? Deepika’s has been bold enough to shed light on an issue that is typically swept under the rug within the South Asian community.
The truth of the matter is, that at any point, 3 to 5 percent of people suffer from depression. Many people recognize that they are depressed but are uncertain what to do next. As a primary care physician, I have noted many factors that stop people from seeking care. The resistance to treatment is even greater in the South Asian community, where there is a huge cultural push to “not air dirty laundry” and to always present an “everything is great” facade.
- Embarrassment. “I must be weak and a whiner to not be able to pull myself out of this.” I tell patients all the time to think of their mental health just like their physical health. You are not weak if you suffer from asthma. You are not a whiner if you are suffering from depression.
- “Only nutjobs see shrinks.” There is unfortunately a lot of social stigma about seeking care from a psychiatrist, especially in the South Asian community. Many active, upstanding, “normal” members of society are under the care of psychiatric providers. There is no shame. Unfortunately, many psychiatrists don’t accept health insurance and cost can be prohibitive. If this is the case, ask your primary care provider (PCP) for help. Many PCPs do treat depression and anxiety, or at the least, can help provide you with appropriate referrals.
- “They are just going to dope me up with medications.” It is true, some people do need medication to treat their depression. And yes, some of those medications do have side effects. It can take some perseverance and commitment on your part and that of your doctor’s to find the right fit, but it can be done. Alternatively, other patients improve without prescription drugs after referral to support groups, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or with increased focus on stress management and exercise.
I am very glad that a public personality like Padukone, who is feted and admired, came forth with her story. I hope that her fans and the general public will understand that mental health issues are a real concern for millions of people, and have far-reaching effects on the daily lives of many. Depression impacts not only the one suffering the symptoms, but also the families, the employers, the friends, and the communities who surround them.
Hopefully, with more awareness, there will come more treatment. And with more treatment, an increase in the quality of life of many.
Photo Credit: Vijay Sonar, Flickr