Saturday, December 03, 2005

On feeling down, and springing back up

There have been reports about a couple of students taking their own lives in IIT-B and IIT-K. Among many blog reactions, Mridula's post presents some analysis and also contains an important message: Life is too big to let some bad events take your life over.

My comment there just became too long, so I am posting it here. Let me try to get across a whole bunch of thoughts in some coherent fashion. Suicides are not easy to deal with: they produce so many strong emotions. It is difficult to wade through such strong currents and yet have coherent thoughts. Here we go:

The 'immediate cause' or 'trigger' for a suicide varies quite a bit. It could be grades, it could be one's love life, it could be problems at home, whatever. But, as Mridula rightly pointed out, none of it -- absolutely none -- is worth taking one's own life.

But the long term cause, naturally, is the mismatch between expectations and results. Such a mismatch is bound to be there -- after all, nobody enters this world with a guarantee card stapled to one's body, saying one will always get what one wants. When a mishap is not handled in a (psychologically) healthy way, one gets into problems, including depression. Psychologists will tell you that a large fraction of the population has felt depressed at sometime or the other -- after all, Sachin does score a duck every once in a while. And, most such depressions are minor. But, the happy news is that even the big versions of depression can be mitigated, and even cured.

There are at least two forces that prevent you from keeping depression at bay. The first is one's mindset, that places a large premium on success in everything. A great urge to succeed is probably desirable -- I am not even sure about it, but I am willing to concede it exists. But the trick is to realize that it is possible to live, quite happily in fact, with success in just a few things. Or, even one thing! Having many different types of interests seems to be one good way of ensuring a few successes.

The second force is a chemical or hormonal imbalance in our bodies. When certain hormones don't get secreted in just the right amounts, even small setbacks, like a mishit in a street cricket match, may cause a lot of distress. Everybody has such an imbalance occasionally. Some of it is triggered by external causes, such as binge drinking. But some of it is also due to the way your body is sculpted. A good psychiatrist (of the clinical kind) will be able to figure out if you need medication to bring your juices back on track. It is just like antacid -- this one cures your hormonal acidity.

With my limited knowledge, I have outlined two common problems, and both are easily solvable. The first one can be solved with the help of someone to drill some sense into you, and the other, with the help of someone to drill some medicines into you. It is really that simple.

But you don't have to trust me -- one of the millions of bloggers. But, you can take advice from people who have given it a lot of thought and attention, and have gained valuable experience in treating people with depression, the academic and clinical psychologists.

Some of them have online presence, too! One of the major ones with lots of academically validated information (presented in a friendly way, though ;-) is the website of the American Psychological Association. It has all kinds of information addressed to the public; see, for example, the pages on depression and its opposite, the emotional well being.

Let me end with what a great philosopher said in the late eighties: "Don't worry, be happy". ;-)


  1. Anonymous said...

    Nice one.

  2. Anonymous said...

    What a wonderful read this was! I suffer from bipolar depression and most people just can't understand how hopeless life can feel at times, while in the mist of a depressed phase, and coping is never easy. A lot of people are afraid to ask for help, because there's a "stigma" and you're viewed as being "weak", but suicide is just the worst solution and it's incredibly hurtful to everyone who knew and loved the person.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Abi, thank you for posting such coherent thoughts. I know for sure nothing is worth even thinking of doing rash things but putting it coherently for others is not an easy task. You did a wonderful job.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Good one.
    I ahve tried to list some things in my blog at
    None of them are worth dying tho. I lived through them :-)

  5. Anonymous said...

    permalink :

  6. Abi said...

    Anirudh, Crystal, Mridula, Venkataprasad: thanks for your comments.

    Crystal: Special thanks for sharing your perspective. I found myself in a depressed state a long time ago, and for a long time too. I had no idea how to even seek help. My interest in psychology started then, and I keep track of stuff in that field even now -- not as an expert, but as an interested outsider. This post is a result of some of my learnings, and I wanted to convey: (a) Depression is just too common, and there is no need to feel stigmatized. (b) trained people can really help.

    Mridula: Special thanks to you for your very thought-provoking post.

    Venkataprasad: As you rightly said in your blog, many of the students who end up in top colleges have gotten too used to success to take failure in the right spirit. IMO, every college with over thousand students should have a counsellor and a psychiatrist visiting for consultation at least once a week.