The Ministry of Health’s Twitter page can’t seem to catch a break. A few months ago, it had shot itself in the foot with a post on weight-loss diet. And today, another one of its well-intentioned posts has angered doctors all over the country on its rather simplistic take on depression. The Twitter handle of the ministry shared a poster with an infographic on ‘How To Cope With Depression.’ The 10-point coping plan includes doing yoga, travelling, eating fruits, sleeping for minimum 8 hours and taking multivitamins, being creative, going for walks and following a routine.
The text accompanied the post: “Depression is a state of low mood that affects a person’s thought, behaviour, feeling & sense of well-being. One must take up activities that keep him or her boosted to cope with depression.” Here's the tweet.
#Depression is a state of low mood that affects a person's thought, behaviour, feeling & sense of well-being. One must take up activities that keep him or her boosted in order to cope with depression. #SwasthaBharat #MentalHealth #LetsTalk pic.twitter.com/UJR3X7GwL2
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) June 26, 2018
Understandably, this has ruffled a lot of feathers and irked people on the internet. If you knew a thing or two about depression, it’s hard not to miss some of the inherent ironies in the post. While we are sure it is well-intentioned, it reinforces the myths about depression in a country which already has a somewhat cursory understanding of mental health problems. It feeds into the idea that depression is well within the control of the sufferer, nothing a few lifestyle tweaks cannot solve.
Where It Goes Wrong:
Travel: Traveling requires coordination, planning and logistics, which could be a very stressful experience for those who are struggling with depression. Travelling to new places may also agitate those who face anxiety disorders since it may require them to communicate with new people. Recommending travel as a way to cope with depression may backfire in many cases.
Think Positive: This one seems like a cruel joke, a parody. If only things were as easy as saying “cheer up” with a pat on the back, depression wouldn’t be a thing. Depression is complicated and forcing someone to think positive may stress them out more.
Sleep For Minimum 8 Hours: For the misinformed, sleep is what most people with depression struggle with. Anxiety, stress and depression often take a toll on one’s sleep. According to studies, three-quarters of depressed patients have insomnia symptoms. One can’t miss the irony. Had it not been so tragic, it would be hilarious.
What It Gets Right
Follow A Routine: Following a routine is great! It’s also recommended in a few cases if you have depression. Depressed individuals feel a loss of control in their daily lives. So instilling a daily routine can give them a semblance of order and control among the chaos. That could be helpful.
Taking Multivitamins and Eating Fruits: Depression can affect your appetite and mood. Some may eat to cope and others may starve. Studies have shown the connection between nutrient deficiency and mental health problems. They have also shown that using nutritional supplements are often effective in reducing symptoms.
Stay Clean: Cleanliness is the cornerstone of good health and practising personal hygiene always goes a long way in maintaining it. It’s also true the chronic stress associated with depression can weaken the immune system. So staying clean can chances of contracting infections on account of the low immunity. One less thing for your body to worry about.
Practice Yoga: Yoga, the holistic health system, has been validated by science to assist depressed individuals in coping with their depressive symptoms. Practising dhyana or meditation may also have a calming effect on the person’s health.
We're Not Sure
Go For Walks: Going for walks and working out may help in releasing feel-good hormones such as serotonin. So physical exercises may work in theory…except that for someone with chronic depressive symptoms that alone may not suffice. Studies also say that the interplay between serotonin and dopamine can be scary in depressed individuals who already have an imbalance of the neurotransmitters.
Be Creative: The old creativity cure for depression may work. Some believe that having a creative outlet may relax and engage those who feel stressed, offering some relief from depression. But it’s not clear whether science validates it.
In all fairness, the Ministry of Health didn’t claim that these tips may “cure” depression. However, it’s rather irresponsible on their part to not recommend professional help for depressed individuals and suggest these tips instead. By omitting such a huge point, the ministry has essentially trivialised the problem.