International Women's Day: Why are Indian women depressed?

World Health Organization (WHO) says India is the most depressed nation in the world. (Illustrative image, courtesy Pixabay) Photograph:( Others )

WION New Delhi, India Mar 06, 2017, 01.43 PM (IST) Laden Bhutia

I don’t exactly remember how long ago I became acquainted with the term depression, but I do remember not understanding its connotation up until a few years ago.

“Mental health” is something we Indians are not very comfortable discussing. It’s not an actual disease, they say. You only go to a psychologist or a therapist if you’re insane, they say.

Yet, World Health Organization (WHO) says India is the most depressed nation in the world with 36 per cent of Indians having suffered from a major depressive episode (MDE).

WHO also states that women are more prone to depression than men, where the burden of depression is 50 per cent higher among females as compared to men.

Largely goes undiagnosed

Ruchika Kanwal, Clinical Psychologist at Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing, says depression largely goes undiagnosed among women, specifically among the ones who stay at home.

Why does that happen, I ask

"The immediate social circle that they (housewives) have are women who are mostly housewives. When they discuss their issues, they’re mostly struggling with the same symptoms. They then tend to normalise it because everybody is going through the same thing," says Ms Kanwal.

She adds that these women don’t understand that there are certain symptoms that are beyond normal, clinically speaking. This leads to depression largely going undiagnosed.

Burden on women

Postpartum depression is a type of clinical depression may affect women after childbirth. The symptoms include insomnia, irritability, social isolation, fatigue, etc.

There are more than 10 million cases of postpartum depression per year in India. Those who develop postpartum depression are also at a greater risk of developing major depression later on in life.

Left untreated, postpartum depression can interfere with mother-child bonding and cause family problems. Children of mothers who have untreated postpartum depression are more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems, such as sleeping and eating difficulties, excessive crying, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Manavi Khurana says a lot of women they see at their clinic don’t get help with child rearing. It’s always the woman’s job to take care of the child, she adds.

"We’ve had clients who are very upset because their husbands give them absolutely no share in power at home. So that is one of the causes of postpartum depression among women," says Ms Khurana.

Ms Khurana is a Counselling Psychologist. She is also the founder of the Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing.

But what causes depression among these women?

Some common symptoms of depression are loss of appetite, insomnia, restlessness, experiencing negative thoughts, hopelessness, among many others.

I asked Ms Kanwal what exactly triggers depression among Indian women.

She says because women are suppressed in India, they don’t go out and talk about their problems, which in the long run leads to depression.

“Internalised disorders are more prevalent among people who do not express themselves as much. Women are not motivated to go out and talk about their problem,” Ms Kanwal says.

She continues, “So when they don’t have that support system to vent out, they keep internalising it and exhaust all the coping skills they have. When you don’t have that platform, it will take a toll
on your health.”

How to deal with it

The first step towards recovery, says Ms Kanwal, is to make the patients believe they’re not weak because they’ve been suffering from depression and that depression doesn’t mean that you’re a failure in dealing with your everyday problems.

The patient should then seek for support from family and friends, as well as a professional which could include a counsellor, psychologist or a psychiatrist.

"Because it’s a psycho-social disorder, you should avail therapy and counselling along with medication so that whatever negative thoughts or altered perception you have, you could be helped with it," says Ms Kanwal.  

The treatment, like the condition itself, varies from person to person. So there is no clear-cut formula to overcome depression. But keeping it to yourself certainly isn’t the answer.

Lastly, spreading awareness about mental health issues and breaking the stigma around it should be the topmost priority. Without that, patients will keep on suffering in silence.