Undefeated by depression: Haryana boy shares experiences to fill the gaps

This story was written in September 2020

Depression doesn’t discriminate; it can afflict anyone and at any point in time, regardless of how happy or successful they might outwardly appear. While awareness about mental health issues has been growing significantly in recent years, there still are many who either prefer not to talk about it or do not realise that it can be triggered for no reason at all. For Arjun Gupta, who turns 23 next month, there was no single factor that plunged him into it. “There was no trigger at all. I had gotten into the medical college I wanted to, I was in a great relationship, and everything seemed perfect,” recalls the resident of Hisar, Haryana, who went through a phase of severe clinical depression between 2015 and 2017.

Arjun Gupta

Negative thoughts had begun to pop into his head uninvited, leaving behind a mess of uncomfortable emotions. “In a couple of months, the situation spiralled into full-blown depression. I was constantly thinking about dying and just harming myself. I hated everything around me. I couldn’t sleep well. When I woke up after getting whatever little sleep I got, it felt like it was the beginning of another day of misery. I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I was just numb from the inside,” he says.

Like many others, Arjun didn’t need a mysterious past or a dark present to have a tussle with depression. On various scales and tools to screen symptoms associated with depression, he scored very high, indicating the severity of the illness. “I scored a 34 on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, where anything above 23 is considered severe. On the Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale, my score was 73, and on the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale, I scored 50. Anything over 35 is severe. I was in denial for a long time. It took me around 18 months to accept that I had an illness called clinical depression,” he shares.

Luckily for him, his family — parents and two elder sisters — handled the situation with sensitivity and extended unending support. “Sadly, at that time, I wasn’t willing to acknowledge the fact that they were supporting and trying to do something for me. They were always around me because I had turned suicidal. Now, when I look back, I realise that they were the first ones who suggested that I consult a psychiatrist. Once I accepted my situation and began cooperating with my psychiatrist, sharing what I was going through or feeling, things began changing,” he says.

Thanks to this support system, Arjun felt the old him re-emerging. Arjun has since written two books on mental health. He has even spoken at a few varsities about the importance of mental health. “My depressive phase began in August 2015. In November that year, I attempted to take my life for the first time. Then again in 2016 and 2017, I made a couple more attempts to kill myself. Coming out from that, finding my own self again, and getting back everything that I had lost then — that made me think that mental health awareness was very important.”

Around February 2017, he put out a post on Facebook about his depression and that he was undergoing professional help: “The social support I received after that was overwhelming; it made me feel like that this was worth recovering from.”

He also began researching on depression and wrote blogs to help others going through a similar situation. “The next year, a blogging community gave me an offer to publish my blogs into a book. That’s how I got my first book, ‘The A-Z Of Mental Health’, published in 2018. A year-and-half later, my second book, ‘Shhh! Don’t Talk About Mental Health: Why Being Quiet Is No Longer An Option’, was published. In the second book, I went back to the basics. Because many people still have different notions about mental health. I just wanted to set the record straight,” he says, adding, “My mother is a retired professor and my father is a surgeon. Despite all resources and knowledge, we had no idea what to do when someone was struggling with mental health issues. So, I felt that there was widespread ignorance around this. That’s what I have been trying to help with of late.”

After being in the grip of clinical depression for so long, Arjun realises that nobody stigmatises mental illness more than those who suffer from it, and has been trying to reach out to those going through a dark phase. He is associated with an organisation called Manostithi, which works on raising awareness on mental illness. “I tell people that mental illness may start for no definable reason, but, if not treated on time, it may leave a growing trail of problems.”

Recently, during his dissertation for bachelor’s degree, Arjun came across many people going through depression. “My topic was ‘Depression in Men and Women in India’. I realised that so many people have had such similar stories to tell — stories of feeling isolated, trapped, frightened, or frustrated by what they’re experiencing. Being able to talk to them was something that’s very close to my heart.”

Arjun wishes to pursue his master’s degree in psychology and work for the cause of people with mental illness. “I want to do something to help people in my own city, Hisar. If I want something to change, I must first bring about that change in my own home.”

Before signing off, Arjun highlights one pertinent point — how to respond to people battling depression. “Most of my friends backed off during my worst phase because they had no idea about what was happening. The few friends I shared my troubles with told me to ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’. If people have such things to tell someone going through depression, I’d rather appreciate their silence than their unhelpful words,” he says.

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Aveek Bhowmik

Aveek Bhowmik

A curious traveller and sports buff, I'm drawn to food, history, cultures & communities. Let’s chat: aveek.bhowmik1611@gmail.com