“As long as we are persistent in our pursuit of our deepest destiny, we will continue to grow. We cannot choose the day or time when we will fully bloom. It happens in its own time.” Denis Waitley

Life is beautiful. It can be ugly. Life is good. It can be bad. Life is a dream. It can be a nightmare. Life is a positive. It can be negative. Life is friendly, but it can be cruel and hostile too. Life is a passion for some; but for others it could be an evergrowing depression. The fact is, where there is life there is death. But with depression there can be suicide.

My friend, A.S. Chhatwal (IAS, 1986 batch, Punjab cadre) was a highprofile officer. Affectionately we called him by his first name, Avinash. He was a vibrant and extroverted personality, indeed the embodiment of positivity.

His ever-present warmth and his human touch in dealing with others were the eternal source of his power and dynamism. His talent in reaching out to people endowed him with a rare charisma. He had a long list of friends and admirers.

I had a unique relationship with Avinash. We were not only friendly but somewhere deeply connected to each other at the level of our souls, where even a simple silence was amply felt and understood.

I remember one day in the midst of a conversation, a seemingly disturbed Avinash told me how he was a “little unhappy’’ over his only daughter’s choice of a life partner; she had decided to get married to a person who was much lower in status, education and personality.

But then, true to his nature, he simply shrugged it off saying ‘life is like that.’ I also felt his sorrow for some moments but made it a point to forget it, thinking that the girl who had already completed her MBBS from J. J. Hospital, Mumbai must have chosen her partner wisely.

My wife, who is an IA & AS officer, had once to visit Shimla for an official conference. Avinash and his wife were kind enough to receive her at Chandigarh station and to ‘bring her home’.

She had a good time there with the family before leaving for Shimla. After getting back, she told me she had sensed a streak of despondency in him. I felt bad about that. However, I was sure that the man, who knew the art of living so well, would eventually get over his blues.

20 October 2008 was the blackest day in my life. The words “IAS officer commits suicide” kept flashing on the television screen. I was very apprehensive. My wife had the news confirmed instantly by speaking on phone to the Director PGI, Chandigarh.

The worst had happened; one of my dearest friends, Avinash Chhatwal had ended his life. A darkness seemed to overpower me. I felt a deep void and was numbed by grief.

How could a man so full of life and energy commit suicide? Did a dark emptiness lie hidden under the outer radiance and warmth of his exterior self, something that I could not comprehend? For years, the question tormented me.

I found the possible answer the other day, when some suicide cases made big news. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. They were people that millions aspire to be. An international fashion designer of high repute, Kate, was beautiful, successful and full of life. And Anthony was known for his tough-guy attitude and sense of cool. In the words of former President Obama, “He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together.”

What are the reasons that depression keeps on taking lives and we as a society are not yet talking about it openly to find solutions?

After all, what is depression? Some say that it’s a kind of mental illness. But it has been pointed out that there is no single cause of depression. According to a report, factors that contribute to depression include relationship problems, family discord, physical health, job problems, vigilance enquiries, money problems, legal problems, education-related problems, loss of housing, loss in business etc.

What is it though that makes people hide their depression? In case of any physical disorder, say, a stomach problem, a headache or a simple fever, people immediately consult a doctor and the whole family gets into a caring mode? But why does this not happen when a person is suffering from depression? Maybe this is because of lack of awareness, lack of insight, shame, feeling of inadequacy, distrust and more. Maybe it is a silent disease, when the person does not even know that he is suffering from depression.

It is understandable. When you come first in the examination or get a job you go on talking about it. But when you fail or are fired from a job, you want no one to know. Why does this happen? Do we take ourselves too seriously? Is the size of our ego bigger than the size of our problem? Or do we find it belittling to be considered a lesser human? Are we constantly in a race and never want people to see us when we lag behind?

Many questions arise pointing to the causes of depression. Maybe it is because of a faulty social structure or understanding of the self or of life. Instead of learning to be realistic, do we tend to live in dreams and make ourselves easy victims when reality strikes? Experts say IQ apart, there is need of EQ – emotional intelligence – to respect reality, understand it and avoid impulsive judgment, agitation, anxiety, depression and their sorrowful after-effects.

Is today’s reality any different? Life was simple once. People lived in joint families. One man would be the principal earner, while others lived happily. Today, it is different; it’s MEcentric. It’s not just an urban phenomenon but almost a universal phenomenon. Everyone wants to live his or her way, with individual ambitions or aspirations. In this complex structure of co-existence, depression has almost become a way of life. Every day millions suffer, though silently.

Many lives are not as they appear to be. It might be that what is visible outside is just a pale shadow of the reptilian darkness within. People whom we think successful, wealthy, famous, happy and fulfilled may not be so. Why don’t they show grief the way they show success? Have we created a world filled with hypocrisies? These questions arise.

Personal depression apart, is there something called social or national depression? Think of people living in a community, society or nation where one has to live without freedom, equality and justice or live with poverty, inequality, oppression and fear? Are those people more prone to depression? How much depression is caused by social problems, crime and a bad system?

It seems that depression is a complex, psycho-physical combination of many elements. When seemingly trivial irritants and failures in everyday life are overlooked, they tend to accumulate and ultimately take on a violent and gigantic form that is hard to cope with for a mentally weakened individual. The diseased imagination of the patient eggs him on to seek escape by ending his or her life.

Only by cultivating the deepest longing and love for life can one escape the tentacles of depression.

The writer is Chairman, Paras Foundation and can be reached at [email protected]