A Hidden Illness

Imlisanen Jamir


“I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise; and, indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory.”


These words from William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ matches those found in any modern medical text book, concerning the part of the human condition that is depression.


I have a friend, Caleb (name changed), who appears happy in every way. He is financially secure, has a loving family and girlfriend, and an eclectic interest in things that keep his days interesting; at least on the surface.


But there are days, when something eats him up from the inside. A combination of fear and anxiety manifesting into physical discomfort, changes the person that I believe to intimately know. And everyone close to him, including myself, is left befuddled as to how to support him.


This points to our society’s inability to deal with mental illness and depression the right way.


More than 300 million people are living with depression, according to the latest estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO). These new figures are a wake-up call for states and communities to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves.


Since the inception of the State Mental Health Program in Nagaland in December 2015, 380 cases of depression have reportedly been registered till mid-2017.


Nagaland has very few mental health service units—two district mental health programmes in Dimapur; one in Mokokchung town; and the State Mental Health Institute in Kohima.


There are also very few psychiatrists in the state. On World Health Day in April 7 this year, it was revealed that the state has only six psychiatrists. A panel discussion on depression pointed to how it was “not very attractive for doctors to take up psychiatry.”


Compound to this, a society that has not been properly conditioned to help people who suffer from depression; and the latter are left with an inept support base.


Such is the case with Caleb, whose family and friends, including myself, are left clutching at straws. Trips to the doctors did not realise in proper diagnosis, and the prospect of seeing a psychiatrist was only discussed in hushed tones.


It has been argued that depression is a disease of affluence, or a consequence of the way modern urban life is lived. This suggests that people who are depressed but otherwise ‘healthy,’ wealthy and secure have no business being ill and that their lot in life is still better than that of most of the planet’s population.


But it is a real illness and has real causes, not fully understood.


The human mind is our most extraordinary but least understood part; something that is capable of tremendous joy and creativity; but also of horror, fear and depression:


It is time for us as a whole to build up a societal and family structure that is open to discuss mental health issues and to educate ourselves on how to holistically help and understand those who suffer from it.


A change is lifestyle habits can help. But there is something deep about serious depression which cannot be driven away immediately. It requires a whole support structure.

The writer is an Associate Editor at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to imlisanenjamir@gmail.com