It pained me immensely when a bright star in Bollywood ended his life owing to depression. When a young person who had many years of productive life left, who was a National Olympiad Winner in Physics, and who left a career in mechanical engineering to become a talented and popular actor, takes such an extreme step, it’s a collective loss to the nation. He was also a budding entrepreneur. It is sad that a prodigious actor and an exceptional citizen is no longer with us.
Life is sometimes filled with anxiety, internal conflict, disharmony, uncertainty and fear of the unknown. These thoughts give way to myriad feelings. One tends to feel like a stranger to one’s self. COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst inducing angst in the life of individuals who are already stressed because of various factors and modern lifestyles.
Stress in modern life
There are many factors that cause stress in modern life. They include more engagement with technology and less with people; more focus on “success” (the ends) rather than the process of learning (the means); never-ending aspirations; relationship issues; impatience while doing tasks, for this is a generation looking for instant gratification; and too many choices and the limitations of the human mind to choose wisely. With the bridging of gender inequalities, increase in employment of women, growth and development of urban and peri-urban areas, interference of the media and social media in every aspect of life, and disruption in the traditional joint family system, there is an underlying strain on the socio-cultural fabric. Some of this stress, if not handled well, can push human beings into depression.
Some interesting cases and studies throw light on the coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression. Viktor Frankl, who was detained in Nazi concentration camps, studied the source of depression and found that it is the lack of meaning in life. Individuals who are able to discover meaning tend to achieve the will and strength to endure life.
That brings us to the next question: how do we find meaning in life? Meaning can be found in love and work. Love for fellow beings is what motivates a person to work or take action. If we can base our actions and work on a shared love for family members and society at large, we can find effective meaning in life. ‘The Art of Living’ involves managing the self for others.
Prescriptions for depression and anxiety can be found in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore believed that being socially connected was an antidote to the mental estrangement that plague-affected people were undergoing in 1918. Tagore was aware that such a wildly contagious disease was likely to cause panic among the students. He organised many events in the Ashram which ensured that social connections existed despite physical distance. In an essay, he suggested that we generate bonhomie between the affected and those who were not, because the ill were not the enemy; the illness was. For immunity from psychological suffering, what was required was a design of togetherness, which Tagore insisted was ingrained in the famous Rig Vedic dicta, Yatra Visvam Bhavati Ekanidam (where the whole world meets in a single nest) and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family).
Connecting with others
Besides finding meaning in life, social connect is very important. I feel that positive and continuous communication is the key to end the misery of anxiety, depression and stress to achieve higher levels of well-being. I want to make an earnest request to all the students and teachers who are under any form of stress, or tend to feel depressed, to reach out and talk to people, whether friends or relatives. A depressed person may not want to connect initially. Therefore, I appeal to family, relatives and friends to watch out for signs in their near and dear ones of persistent sadness, aloofness, loss of interest in activities and appetite, negative thoughts including about self-harm, and provide immediate support and connect. We must not stigmatise the condition of mental health issues; it can happen to anyone. Instead, let us support our family and friends to tide over the difficult times with love and care. In doing so, we will find meaning in our own lives.
Every Indian citizen is unique as he/she undertakes life’s journey in this diverse and vibrant democracy. The onus lies on society and the immediate family to identify the unique talents in each member of society/ child and nurture them, so that people don’t feel neglected/isolated. Individuals should work for society and for themselves so that they are part of communities. This spirit of harmony between individual and society glued by communication is the best way we can overcome stress, anxiety and depression.