Robin Williams Depression

Robin Williams ( Academy award winning Actor/Comedian 1951-2014)

Let us imagine a world where everyone talks frankly , loves and supports each other such that everybody’s lives are taken care of . Now think for a moment and tell me, would you find anyone getting depressed and committing suicide in this utopia ?

If you’re one of those few who said yes , I’m sure you would have a member of your family or friends or someone who knew to have a good life but had abruptly ended their own in a manner that will still make you gasp in disbelief . And for those majority saying ‘No’it is imperative that you take time to read on before you let someone slip away by just being oblivious to their subtle calls for help.

Its quite disheartening that in a world with people hardly making eye to eye conversations , and ever deteriorating listening skills that we come across ever increasing cases of suicide where most of the victims are men and almost all of them had inadequate mental health assistance simply because of two very avoidable reasons . One being the gross lack of knowledge about psychiatric illnesses and two being the stigma associated with it . Its natural for all of their relatives to have advised these men to ‘Toughen up’/ ‘Man up’/ ‘take it in the chin’ / ‘Don’t be a sissy ‘ , when in reality it has nothing to do with ones approach to life .

Often a sad man needs a party , needs an outing with his pals or a brisk morning jog in the hills with Pink Floyd playing through the earphones or an ‘awe-inspiring’ TED talk to change the moody blues into hope and motivation eventually lifting the spirits . I totally agree thats exactly what even I’d do if Im not feeling good after a bad day and it helps me every single time . But sorry to disagree , we are in no way talking about sad men . We are talking about depressed men , and yes there is an ocean of difference between these two .

The fact that sadness is one of the universal emotions all must go through and because we often we script our own versions of recovery , through feats of courage and love ,we believe quite logically that its not something one can use as an excuse to call sickness. Agreed.

SAd vs Dep

But we are not talking about ‘sadness’ the emotion here , not that gloomy little blue character from the movie ‘Inside Out ‘. ‘Depression’ is not the same as being sad . The dissappointing use of the word in a very common sense does add a great deal to the demerit of this term. Nevertheless , one must understand we are talking about a disorder of the brain , that at the fundamental neurochemical level has an imbalance due to genetic causes and becomes perpetuated in situations one cannot handle for his level of resilience . To this neuropsychiatric condition , Western physicians since time immemorial have chosen to use this unimaginatively colloquial term called “Depression” . As an Indian , I can quote ancient Vedic literatures talking about ‘Tridoshas’ or humors and description of Depressive illness with a name “Tridoshonmad” or the ancient greeks describing this entity of a human being thrown into fears and despondencies , which Hippocrates named “melancholia” , the root of the word melancholy that we use today for describing pensive sadness.

If at all conspiracy theorists start telling you “Depression” is an illness created by pharmaceutical companies to make profit and you find logic in that argument , ask yourself did these companies exist in ancient greek and Indian civilization . The medications used in treatment on major occasions save lives and like any medication may not work in some despite adequate trials due to issue of treatment resistance , a phenomenon experienced in all fields of medicine due to simple lack of cutting edge molecules unique to that particular individual , something only continued research holds key to unlocking. Conspiracy theorists use these scenarios to keep people in murky waters , and as their TRP ratings remain afloat , real lives continue to sink in these murky waters of misinformed mass media .

All of our natural reactions to suicide remain universally similar in that we start finding answers to one question of “ What stress did he have ?” . Then the whole cascade of hypothesis begins flowing from his sociocultural and economic backgrounds and like a detective we collect clues to connect the dots trying our best to sympathize with what would have caused him pain . On some unfortunate occasions there would be an obvious life scenario challenging enough to face , answering these questions but if you honestly take the effort to empathise and not merely sympathize , very often there is a case of suicide which appears as an overwhelming reaction to a commonly observed challenge . And as soon as the question remains unanswered people snap to the next possible logical query of a homicide despite forensic analysis ruling it out completely . The truth is that most people ( including medical experts without any special training in psychiatry ) are surprisingly unaware of the fact that , depressive Illness can occur to anyone irrespective of his achievements and possessions and environmental supports .

To explain this better , let us look at the very recent suicide of a post graduate junior resident of Radiology in PGI Chandigarh on 26th February ,2018 at India’s top Medical training institute . This is 24 year old doctor Krishnaprasath Ramasamy , who after completing his MBBS , had the tenacity and skill to outshine the best performing residents across the country of billions to secure a merit seat in this country’s most reputed institution . Living among doctors from various speciality and being in a place which has a renowned work ethic and infrastructure with support of several colleagues from his own state in order to help with the language barrier , the man in a mere 2 months had found himself unable to cope .

PGI resident

Dr Krishnaprasath Ramasamy from Tamilnadu

The man had initially joined the department of Internal medicine , which he found difficult to cope and quoted language barrier as an issue and duly in subsequent counselling shifted to more comfortable department of radiology where only limited interactions with people are needed but his 15 days in the new Ultrasound section was not helping him and on monday morning his absence in hospital was noticed which upon subsequent probing lead to the ghastly scene of the man hanging by the noose in his locked hostel room leaving every single ‘doctor’ who lived with him in shock and immediate shame . They did retrospectively recall his subtle cries for help with his unsettled choice of departments and frequent cry of language difficulties in a place where plenty of doctors from his state had learned to adapt with no knowledge of local language at the start . His own mother recalls advising him to give it time and toughen up before choosing to quit . As Ive mentioned above , people still hypothesise all possible external stresses to be the cause without considering the gross negligence of psychiatric knowledge even amidst doctors who claim to have tried encouraging him by taking him on outings . Its like gifting a new pair of sneakers to cheer up a below knee amputee.

In case you recognise the first image in the article , The Oscar winning actor/comedian Robin Williams had it all . His career and personal life had often been enviable and yet the suddenness and unpredictable nature of his suicide has even left the ever conspiring media in deafening silence . He had suffered depression and paranoia in a setting of Dementia . This lack of knowledge can no more be tolerated by any one in the field of mental health for basic understanding of the nature of ‘Depressive Illness’ is a must because unless people begin talking about it openly and empathetically like Diabetis or Cancer, valuable men like Dr Krishnaprasath and Robin Williams will forever choose to suffer in silence because their cry for help would only invite insensitive pep talks and illogical conspiracy theories . The society’s expectation for men to remain tough in difficulties , strong in unfavourable situations and calm under pressure will further keep these sufferings submerged within the walls of his bedroom or his therapists chamber if he was lucky enough to get one . And eventually when he cannot hide it anymore , his desperate cry for help would be made possible by the only act that garners reasonable attention without criticism and simultaneously ending his misery , which is death. Being strong is indeed killing our men.

inktober depression

The destruction caused by the illness ‘Depression’ is real and it will be the leading cause of morbidity by 2020 as per WHO simply because of the delay in treatment people need that in turn is contributed by the Ignorance and Stigma towards the disorder . The Brain of a person suffering ‘ Major Depressive disorder ‘ has innate imbalances in his levels of neurochemicals such as Serotonin , Nor epinephrine and dopamine and many others involved in our neural circuits and this can get onset at any age and soon becomes accentuated in stressful scenarios like a fish falling sick and soon thrown out of water , whose already low coping capacities camouflaged in familiar territories becoming disastrously evident in unfamiliar territory. Always the disorder can be identified by looking for cardinal symptoms that become obvious if we take time to listen non judgementally . These include feeling persistently a low mood , losing interest in previously pleasurable activities (anhedonia) , becoming tired in performing the simplest of routine tasks that previously were being done effortlessly and changes in patterns of sleep and appetite . Continuation of any of these changes for more than a period of 2 weeks warrants instant visit to your nearest mental health expert who can be anyone from a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist or a psychiatric social worker who are all connected to each other and work as a team to give a multifaceted support in all domains of one’s life .





smiling dep

Dr .Vel Prashanth Venkatesan is a resident of Psychiatry at the CENTRAL INSTITUTE OF PSYCHIATRY (CIP), Ranchi, India who writes on Indian contexts of psychosocial issues with keen interests in helping towards mental health awareness.

The Rise of the Brash Man

Vinayak S Rengan

Global politics is in top gear but the handbrakes are still engaged. The car is fast but it screeches as the braked tyres slide across the unpaved roads. Welcome to the era of the Brash Men – They are fast, they scream and shout, they are loud – very loud and they think everyone else is a fool. And yes they are all men. With a limited vocabulary and even more limited intelligence , the car often brakes unsure where to go. They are the new young Turks. Just that they aren’t so young either. When 60 decibels will suffice , they need to use 120 decibels. They lampoon the media but often seek their approval. Their source of information is often limited to late night TV debates on channels they hate. They swear often and their expletive ridden rants are lapped up by their supporters. Misogyny is in vogue now and so is infidelity. Welcome to the world of Duterte, Trump and Zuma.

Trump at 120 decibels

The masses need an opium. Most often they are satisfied by religion but it often progresses to leadership. Leaderless religions with no one to follow such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the ancient Asian religions of Shintoism have always struggled to proselytise. The shepherd is an essential component of human psyche. Exhausted by the struggles of daily living in a modern world , unable to cope with need for increasing skill sets and higher education – man often wants another man to tell him what to do. Thinking often becomes a waste of time. A strong leader gives them hope. The Macho leader is an enigma. He is not an illiterate man. He is often a successful professional or a consummate businessman. His involvement in politics is often downplayed or non-existent before he becomes the leader. The concept of a incorruptible outsider who will destroy the current corrupt and inefficient political system is an idea that appeals to the ordinary middle class man.

The ordinary middle class man is a man from the majority community ( racial / religious ) who struggles to make ends meet in an increasingly demanding society. All his problems arise from those around him. The minorities have taken his jobs, his college seats , his streets and sometimes even his women. He lives out of his sense of victimhood. He believes that salvation shall arise when a strong male leader from the majority community shall stand up for his rights and teach everyone else a lesson. He is not very educated and complex words befuddle him. He believes that every other country is against his and his understanding of economics is rudimentary despite the fact that he is very good at using the computer to file his taxes. He thinks women need to sit back home and make him roast meat yet his boss at work is a woman.

A similar scenario arose in Europe in the interwar years. Germans stripped of their pre-war might immersed themselves in a vicious mixture of victim hood and exaggerated sense of racial superiority. In this perilous cauldron of self-pity arose leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. They promised them glory and salvation from everything they faced now. Economic issues assumed a racial tone and the great leader gave them hope. Rabble-rousing speeches extolling the virtues of jingoistic nationalism and racial/religious superiority are honey to the ears of the deprived middle class.

Rodrigo Duterte is a prime example of such machismo. He is an mirror image across the Pacific of Trump. The mirror however is mirror right out of R L Stine’s horror stories. A meaner and more politically incorrect version of Trump , Duterte is a successful lawyer who rapidly rose to become the President of Philippines despite being the last person to file the nomination. He has portrayed himself as a rank outsider despite the fact that he was the mayor of Davao for 22 years. The “Punisher” as he is called is a strong votary of death squads to punish drug offenders. Foul-mouthed with a quick temper he is proud of the fact that he has personally killed a few people. Misogynistic attitude is worn on a sleeve and rape jokes are a regular feature on his speeches.

Duterte in pensive mood

Jacob Zuma, a serial sexual offender who believes that it is a man’s right to touch women without their permission was long seen as a moral successor to the much benign Mandela. His hyperinflated Zulu male pride combined with a perceived moral entitlement due to his role in the anti-apartheid revolution , Zuma proved to be pain in the neck for ANC in South Africa.

His initial popularity couldn’t compensate for rampant corruption and his personal excesses. Recently ousted as the President, Zuma exemplified what is wrong about this world. Each time he was accused of corruption , he blamed imaginary colonial forces who wanted to harm a poor black man. Playing on a sense of black victim hood, all the problems in South Africa apparently arose from the white man hating the black man for his apparent liberation. Dragged to court on rape charges , this serial polygamist has openly said that a woman’s primary role is to get married.


Jacob Zuma in crisis

Trump is a softer version yet a more dangerous one by the virtue of being the so called leader of the free world. His faux pas and gaffes have made him the butt of liberal coffee table jokes but the reality is that he is here to stay. Pride, lust and gluttony may be 3 of the 7 cardinal sins but that hasn’t stopped the evangelical zealots from endorsing him. The tea party conservatives conveniently ignore his extra-marital excesses while self-righteously condemning everyone else. A man who said we couldn’t vote for Carly Fiorina because her face looked ugly is the man who has become the President of United States. When asked how he was going to change Miss USA pageant , he said “ Make the bathing suits smaller and the heels higher “. Americans have made him their president. In 2000, he made a list of women whom he would like to sleep with and in 2003 he made a remark about how he thinks his daughter is voluptuous and he would be dating her if she wasn’t his daughter. Americans have made him their president. He infamously tweeted once

The sad part is that a large chunk of America now fits the classical description of the victim card playing jingoistic white male. A man who resorts to blaming mental illness instead of banning assault rifles is not a man who is fit to lead the great nation. Putin was the beginning. The strong man image , the photo shoot with guns and pandering to the idea that the nation is under siege is now a part of a global leadership manual.

The trend isn’t confined to the those mentioned. Viktor Orban Hungary’s prime minister is busy upping populist anti-immigrant rhetoric while creating a alpha male strong man image. Erdogan in Turkey is doing the same. Do they give results? The answer often is a resounding no. Economic decline and unbridled corruption often are the endpoints of such regimes. Zuma’s rule was marked by near “state-capture” by the influential Gupta family. Strong men of European countries are often ruling over states with mountains of public debt.The macho men are here to stay for a long time. No one really knows what the world faces in the next few decades.

Vinayak S Rengan is a General Surgery resident in Chennai, India with a strong interest in socio-political issues and medical technology. He writes on global politics and scientific trends in the world.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! The Stone Bench is a liberal opinions blog which shall concentrate on socio-political issues and science. Our contributors are from varying strata and from varied spheres of the society. We believe that change is possible only when voices are heard. We believe in making those voices heard – voices which don’t get a mention in newspapers and in conventional media. Our aim is to create a space where your opinions will be uncensored and uninhibited. We are neither left nor right. We are right there with you.

Vinayak S Rengan

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