Depression: A note of dissent

Sanal Haridas

Following the demise of the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, there have been serious attempts in social media platforms to problematize depression. People from so wide a range as clinical psychologists to poets and activists are part of this endeavor. How precise are these observations? Do these mob discourses render justice to the individualistic experiences of depression?

Its quite an undisputed fact today, that the issues of women/ Dalits are best discerned and analyzed by these very communities. The collectives of both women and Dalits have been at the forefront of developing such a conviction. The essence of this realization is that both Dalit and women’s problems are experiential and the issues will be best analyzed by documentation from within these realms.

Strangely enough, no such orchestrated voice has been raised, even in cyberspace; for the cause of ‘the mentally non-conforming’.This makes patronizing the community, an easy job, facing absolutely no defensive mechanisms. Depression is one of those marginalized positions, which calls for analysis based on personal experience. The rest could possibly end up as mere assumptions and even glorification or romanticization.

One among the popular ‘Depression myths’ goes, that those suffering often cry- “Only if I had support! How I wish I had a shoulder to lean on!” The message of such an expression is, depression calms down if there is ‘someone’ by the side. In fact, even if there is a number of people around, a melancholic person will be going through a tough time in finding companions who are acceptable and relieving; but the above irrational inferences laugh at this reality as ‘social rejection’ faced by them. Depression is a predicament that refines and filters an individual’s aptitudes. It also rejects the survival gimmicks like tolerance and discipline. Despite such realities, depression anyway continues to be discussed as essentially based on one’s connection with the ‘other’.

Another established notion is, the depressed are ‘drudging’ through their pathetic and disastrous lives. This reminds of a statement in Thakazhi’s Thottiyude Makan: “You will despise such a scavenger. The one who bathes twice a day; a scavenger who puts on clean clothes. ‘Oh! He’s a Casanova’- your women shall scorn.” It’s the accepted social outlook and prejudices regarding a street sweeper/ impoverished, that induce the upper-class women to mock at the neatly- dressed scavenger in the novel, a lady-killer. The ‘scavenger model’ in their minds is an unbathed, dirty, and stinking one. Depression is no exception. What can be inferred from the ongoing discussions is that the mainstream conception of a depressed, requires him/ her to wander about in the public as well as cyber platforms, with lowered heads and gloomy eyes. The masses are well equipped to feed the ‘dispirited’ with ‘care’ which has become quite the benchmark of Kerala!

But what if the opposite happens?

Think of a man/ woman flitting from one love relation to the other, for want of satisfaction; a spendthrift who expends money regardless of his income; one who messes up the family for no reason; a parallel artist who loses cool at the slightest provocation; a boy/ girl who lingers after a temporary physical relationship.

How prepared is our society to accept them?

Won’t they be presented with circumstances similar to Procrustean iron beds, simply because they do not fit into any of our stereotypes?

We can see a flood of misconceptions in the discussions ensuing the prime issue of ‘suicide of the depressed’. The main error is confirming depression as the first and last reason for suicide. Albert Camus wrote in his philosophical text, The Myth of Sisyphus: “Depression need not be necessarily the cause of death when someone facing critical existential crises commits suicide”. The hypothesis that, depression is the raison d’etre of a melancholic person’s suicide is nothing more than a shot in the dark by the majority claiming sanity. Absence of love might be the reason behind one’s suicide; for an impoverished, the want of money. Sometimes it might be an overwhelming sense of inanition, to not fall for the socialization formulas recommended by one’s therapist; whom he/she started consulting, unable to find someone else to confide in. Why, it can be the persistent scorn of your sister, or the incapability to satisfy your partner. It could be one’s addictive reading of Kafka, as much as his/ her consumption of the substance. It can be anything! A matter so diverse and complex is being diluted and ridiculed by the many crowd absurdities.

Even the seemingly authentic reactions from professionals are not foolproof of similar fumblings. The antagonistic face of these expressions gets revealed when they outgrow the analysis of general features of melancholia to passing judgments over the distinctive states of illness (Gender, age, color, region, education, occupation, the family are some of the factors which contribute to experiential fragmentedness).

Let me illustrate the case of gender here- one among the many aforementioned causes of depression. Let’s face the social reality, which pushes a man with depression/ mood swings/ anxiety to more troubles than it does with a woman. I will say, the contrasts are ascertained by virtue of social acceptance and visibility.

We are a nation, maintaining well-defined and closed beliefs regarding how a man and a woman should conduct themselves. Take the case of a man, the discourse is rich with many masculine notions to be ‘strong’, ‘brave’, ‘unshakable’ etc. Therefore, it becomes unthinkable for the ‘common patriarchal sensibility’ (inclusive of both men and women)to tolerate a man who dons tensed, anxious, and gloomy faces often. The imposed self construct reserves tender sensibilities exclusively for women; validating her expressions of depression as a ‘normal’ outcome of her ‘emotional identity’ (which is again superimposed on her).

Just like the case of gender, all other social and individual concerns result in producing a polyphony of experiences. It is in this context, the critique of discourses including medical directions regarding mental non-conformities becomes inevitable.  

Sanal Haridas is an author and a Guest Lecturer at MES Mampad College, Kerala.

This article is originally written in Malayalam and translated into English by Priyanka Aravind