The 'D' word

Updated: Jun 21, 2020, 06:43 IST | Rahul da Cunha | Mumbai

He'd figured a way to compartmentalise - put on his 'happy' face, his impassive look not to give the world any inkling of the demons raging within him

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul da CunhaHe'd been a depressive for years. Not manic or psychotic, and definitely not institution worthy. But, the depression he suffered was like a persistent backache—not wholly chronic, or catatonic. It just hung like a shadow over him. Not that his world view was a depressing one, he was far from a pessimist. It was textbook abnormal psychology. He would go into these terrible lows. Sure, there were days that he couldn't find it in himself to get out of bed, but for the most part, even though the dark side had chosen to befriend him, he kept a cheerful demeanour. He'd figured a way to compartmentalise—put on his 'happy' face, his impassive look not to give the world any inkling of the demons raging within him. Sure, shrinks had attempted to help him over the years—he'd spent much time on couches looking at varieties of ceilings, while the inner recesses of his mind had been excavated. "How was your childhood?", "Were you lonely?", "Does depression run in your family?", he was asked while they took notes, shaking their heads wisely. But, neither pills nor psychiatrists had made much headway. Not their fault, just a case of nature superceding nurture. And, around him, depression was the 'D' word to be uttered in hushed tones, brushed under various carpets, whispered in darkened corridors. "He's 'in depression'", they would say, followed by a vocal rendition of 'tsk tsk'. He was always amused by the term 'in depression'. Was that even the correct phrase? But to be a 'child of the dark side' made you a tad alien, an observer, a fly on the wall, watching people going about their lives, calling themselves 'normal'.

It amused him, that all these years later, the 'D' word was still taboo, the notion that doctors could be visited for an external head wound, but for internal mental health, seeking help was a 'hush hush' affair, something that would pass, and definitely not an issue to be discussed at the dinner table.

For most depressives, who didn't want to seek psychiatric remedies or couldn't afford it, a cry for help was met with "chalo chalo, all is well, there's no problem, you'll get over it".

But, then came a time when depression leading to suicides became rampant, especially among young people… pressured young people.

And, it began to annoy him. The two-facedness that social media brought in its wake—suddenly it became fashionable to talk about mental health. Everyone had a view. Celebs tweeted shallow pedantic, "We need to be very conscious of mental health and depression…blah blah yackety yack." Hashtags like #PleaseSeekHelp, #LifeIsBeautiful, #GoneTooSoon appeared. Simplistic comments in the public domain.

Were we now an open society? Or, would mental health just be a recurring flavour of the month? Would depression merely be something that periodically trended when a young someone killed themselves? Or, would suicide just be a topical issue nestled momentarily between COVID-19 and China?

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at

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