My timeline on Twitter and Facebook is filled with videos of The Live Love Laugh Foundation’s ad campaign, Dobara Poocho – which carries the tagline “Foundation against depression”.
While I’m excited to see that we are talking about mental health more openly, the campaign has honestly been a mixed bag. In a country like ours, where depression is treated in temples, mosques and even considered a weakness, the attempt to be the India’s "first ever public mental health awareness" campaign is commendable. Which is why the depiction of depression and the attitudes towards the condition are deeply disappointing.
While the ad shows different emotions such as frustration, sadness and helplessness; the description of depression is oversimplified. Every mental health practitioner can vouch for the fact that no two clients with depression look similar. The ad breaks depression into sadness and withdrawal, manifested by crying. In clinical practice, depression is manifested in much more nuanced ways than this. For some clients, it manifests itself through severe body aches, fatigue, memory lapses, lethargy, anxiety, emotional numbness followed by an inability to cry. There are others who may show signs of irritation, anger outbursts or changes in sleep and appetite patterns, increased alcohol/drug consumption and even an impact on sexual drive.
My fear is that the ad misses out on all these cues, thereby limiting the understanding of what depression is. We don’t want to move from a space of stigma to another where we create a stereotypical impression of depression. In my 12 years of work experience as a psychologist, I have seen many clients who are high functioning, cheerful at work but have sleepless nights, hopelessness and severe suicidal ideation. Although they seem to pull off their social façade, they may be crumbling from within on a daily basis. My concern is that the ad is not able to address these realities and the agony associated with the illness.
What it misses talking about is how sadness is different from clinical depression. Lot of life events such as a break-up, death in the family, difficult bosses, divorce, violence in the family can trigger feelings of deep sadness which mimic depression, but may be far away from the parameters of clinical depression. Maybe they could have included the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder which clearly mentions the presence of depressed mood and loss of interest/pleasure in daily activities for more than two weeks. This combined with at least five other symptoms and an impact on a person’s functionality whether social, emotional, physical or occupational is another qualifier for clinical depression.
As a psychologist, I feel labels can become limiting and start controlling how people feel about the emotions they are dealing with. When we use the label of depression so strongly, without correlating it with the intensity of moods, specific client experiences, client’s ability to cope — we are increasing the risk of that many who see the video will see themselves as patients.
What was praiseworthy was how the ads looked at depression across different age groups (teenager, young adult, middle aged adult and a senior citizen) and both genders. Also, the caregivers shown cut across both genders, moving away from the traditional nurturing role which is assigned only to women.
However, in the ad which is about the father and son, the tone used and body language are discomfiting. The conversation seems to be tilting towards a power hierarchy and there is an absence of empathy. The choice of words, compassion and sensitivity could have been better woven across these various acts.
Although the campaign, comes from a space of helping people develop a greater sensitivity to depression, what they missed out is how depression saps away energy and often people are not in any state to articulate their concerns. Acknowledging the agony of those struggling with depression is the first step in creating empathy and reaching out.
It would have helped if the ad would have addressed how treatable depression is. An emphasis on a line of treatment which includes reaching out to a psychiatrist, psychologist and possible helpline numbers have been of huge help.
While the Dobara Poocho campaign comes with its intention and heart in the right place, it misses out on how layered and debilitating depression can be. I got a call soon after the campaign launched, saying how this person doesn’t feel anything portrayed in the ad but is still unhappy and feels stuck — so is it alright for him to seek therapy? With the impact and outreach the campaign had, it would have been so much easier if there was more research and greater fleshing out of symptoms and not just a cosmetic description of depression. After all, this isn’t an ad selling a brand of cold drinks, it is an ad aimed at building awareness on mental illness. It’s only fair to expect that it should have been treated with more insight and nuance.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist for over 12 years and works with children and adults to increase their emotional and social well-being.
(Feature image source: PTI)