My Mental Health Challenges - by Milind Deora

As India grapples with the deeply saddening news of Sushant Singh Rajput's suicide, Milind Deora of the Congress says he wants to share his own experience with depression. Deora, who served as a union minister at the age of 32, says that public figures who speak up about the challenges of mental health issues can help many others.

This is possibly the first instance of a young politician speaking so frankly on this topic. Deora says he is in therapy and consults a psychiatrist who has been crucial in improving his mental health. 

Q) You tweeted, "My own experience with suicidal thoughts, first as a teen and even as an MP, taught me to live with the blues." When did you first experience these feelings?

A) I first encountered suicidal thoughts and felt helpless around the age of 16-17. It was terrifying because nobody understood what was wrong with me. My mother did send me to a shrink in Mumbai and that helped a little. But it went away as quickly as it appeared; in about 3-4 months.

Q) How did you overcome depression?

A) The second wave hit me in 2006-2007 when I was an MP. I spent both those years suffering from intense depression and suicidal thoughts. Somehow, I managed to get by with help from family and friends.

Q) Did you seek family help?

A) I always sought help from my family and sometimes, from close friends, who I later discovered also had the same problem. During my third wave in 2013, I sought help from a Delhi-based psychiatrist who was extremely helpful. I continue to remain in touch with him even today. 

Q) In India, talking about mental health is taboo which is why it is rare for a public figure to speak out about this. Why did you do it?

A) I did it spontaneously after seeing people on Twitter comment about Sushant Singh's alleged suicide. I just felt like sharing my coping tools wherein I've learned - and continue to learn - to reduce the amount of pressure I put on myself. For those of us who suffer from chronic bouts of depression or anxiety, the hardest part of life is learning to live with yourself. If my speaking out helps save lives, I'm glad I did.

Q) Did you seek professional help?

A) I did, only in 2013, and learned that it's best to do so immediately before your head gets all tangled up in knots

Q) Could you share what triggered suicidal thoughts (you mentioned you wrestled with these when you were an MP)?

A) It makes one feel helpless when it happens and is extremely debilitating. It also affects your performance at the workplace. Like gender equality in the workplace, all companies, governments and employers should offer support to those seeking help and exhibiting symptoms. In hindsight, I realise there is no shame in wanting time off or rejuvenating. Everyone's body is different. For instance, if someone got cancer, your boss wouldn't expect you to come to work in that condition. We have to overcome the stigma of mental health and seeking counselling.

Q) Winston Churchill who suffered from depression described it as his "black dog", how would you describe yours? 

A) Many of my musical heroes fought similar demons. My favourite bluesman, Robert Johnson, called it a "hellhound on my trail". His remedy was that you "got to keep moving", which essentially meant that you should never let the hellhound catch up with you. I've learned to live with it and try to shake it off whenever it reappears. I've also realised over the years that everyone goes through self-doubt, anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts in some shape or form and that the best way to tackle it is by sharing your experiences with others. There is strength in numbers.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

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