A new book by mental health experts Amrita Tripathi and Arpita Anand, Real Stories of Dealing with Depression (Simon & Schuster India, Rs 399), tackles the bull by its horns and discusses depression in urban India.
The book puts up tough questions: are we having the conversations we need to? And can we defeat the stigma associated with mental illness in India? It comprises 10 stories, contributed by real individuals, following their journeys and battles with mental health in the path towards healing.
The expert psychologists also answer commonly asked questions and reinforce the idea that it is necessary to prioritise mental health and understand ourselves. We asked them about their book and research.
Considering that mental illness is still a taboo in society, was it difficult to gather these personal experiences?
Amrita Tripathi (AT): Mental illness is one of the most difficult things to talk about, especially while sharing from the first-person; partly because the taboo you refer to means that we somehow internalise so much shame and guilt and embarrassment, that is completely avoidable.
It is incredibly difficult to excavate some of our darkest, most desperate memories and moments, and share that with others, with virtual strangers. There is a lot of trust involved.
We got several stories via the site I set up, The Health Collective, where we aim to be above all a safe space to share stories. We try not to put pressure on anyone. But the power of the first-person story is that it comforts, shows the way, and above all, shows that whatever we’re going through, we’re not alone.
You have talked about various kinds therapies. What is your most preferred one for those suffering from depression?
Arpita Anand (AA): There are several schools of thought, and each uses a different technique. One has to find the best fit between one’s own needs, issues and views. I specialise in Cognitive Behaviour therapy and have seen dramatic results of how it helps. There is an overwhelming amount of research to prove its effectiveness in the treatment of depression so I can safely say that this is my preferred approach. But certainly not the only effective one, I must add.
You’ve also listed out ways one can seek help. Why is it so difficult to find the right therapist in India?
AA: I think the main reason is because there are very few ‘trained’ mental professionals in the country. Training in psychology is rigorous and involves a lot of personal development and reflection on one’s own issues. It is imperative that you work through those issues before you start practising.
Good training also teaches you the concept of boundaries, how to keep your personal self separate from your professional self. Even once you start practising, you continue to learn and evolve as a therapist. So as you can see, a lot goes into making a good therapist and unless one is aware and alert, it’s hard to be effective.
What are some of the myths about depression that your book busts?
AT: Some of the most common ones include: “Depression = Sadness” or “People can choose to snap out of depression”, “Depressed people always look depressed”, and my least favourite and maybe the most damaging myth: “Depression = Weakness”.
People who pick up our book will see the clear reality that none of these things are true. What’s been so profoundly moving is how personal these stories are — you’re taken along on a journey, essentially from the bleakest time someone has had to endure to hope, for lack of a better word. Each of our contributors shares part of their healing with us, and that is a powerful thing.
What is a good way to support others who may have depression?
AA: I think the most significant way to support someone who has depression is simply to acknowledge it. There is nothing more comforting than to be understood and not have the pressure to explain and justify what one is going through.
Also, being non-judgemental along with allowing space for the person to share their thoughts and feelings is important. Some amount of encouragement to engage in positive activities and think rationally can go a long way.
Can alternative healing therapies such as Reiki help in cases of mental illness?
AA: It is important that people seek help for their depression. Psychotherapy and medication have been scientifically proven to treat depression. As for alternative healing therapies, there is no scientific evidence that it helps. However, an individual’s belief in a certain form of alternative therapy can be used to their benefit.
For instance, if a person believes in Reiki and they use it, it may help in reducing stress and allowing some degree of relaxation. But these therapies must not be used as an alternative to psychotherapy and/or medication.
First published in eShe magazine