Despite the disputes, McMahon Line is the effective international boundary between China and India, the Medicine Line is an invisible demarcation attributed by local tribes between the US and Canada, and the 38th parallel is latitude 38 degree north of the Equator separating the North and South Koreas. Leaving aside the often murky geo-politics of the world, let’s explore another line today. It is a thin line, crossing which could make or break any of us and for want of a better term, let us call it the Crimson Line. Wikipedia says crimson is a strong, red color, inclining to purple. Crimson also carries the symbolism of red as a power color and the color of love. Sadly, the probability of us crossing from the safe side of this crimson line, to slip into a world of stress, anxiety, depression, and at times even suicide, seems to be higher than ever before. Whether one works in the corporate world or law enforcement, is a college student or school teacher, does farming or treats patients, stress probably unites us today more than our profession, politics or beliefs. And modern science has proven the strong link between stress and depression.
Whether or not a voracious reader since childhood, it is likely that you have heard about Ruskin Bond. Not many writers have managed to capture the imagination of children and adults alike. An Indian author of British descent, he had once mentioned, “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones”. It’s proven that the human body will benefit, and get stronger on applying stressors. A mechanism called Wolff’s law, named after an 1892 article by the German surgeon Julius Wolff, proved that our bones will get denser when episodic stress is applied on them. However, this mechanism holds true up to a point only.
We know that stress can be a health risk, and that we’re often encouraged to reduce or avoid it to be more productive and gain happiness. But the logic of Wolff’s law holds true for stress also. Research suggests that some stress can actually be beneficial to performance. Originally developed by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson “The Yerkes-Dodson law” suggests that when the stress level is low, the performance is also low. However, work performance increases as the stress levels rise up to a certain point, beyond which the performance starts to decline. Both physically, as well as in the mind, the challenge is to find the optimum balance, beyond which it starts going downhill.
Call it serendipity, as we celebrate the festival of lights and happiness, the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) is celebrating the same week as International Stress Awareness Week. As the Diwali lights fade, fireworks dampen and the festive spirit and joy give way to an ensuing winter, one may wonder if stress and related issues are really a challenge for Indians. It may be worthwhile to note that a recently released survey results suggests that stress levels are higher in Indians compared with other developed and emerging countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, France, China, Brazil and Indonesia. To be precise, nearly nine in ten Indians suffer from stress and more than 50% of Indians surveyed said they were not spending enough time with friends or did not have enough time for hobbies. Another study by MoneyControl revealed that 95% of young Indians between the age group of 18 to 34 are feeling stressed, compared to the global average of 86%. In fact, another study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2015 shows that one in five Indians may suffer from depression in their lifetime, which is equivalent to about 200 million people. Making matters worse, one in eight Indians have serious trouble dealing with stress but nearly three-fourths of the respondents said they don't feel comfortable talking to a medical professional about their stress.
Speaking about stress, it’s the corporate world that comes to focus first. As of 2017, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) expects that the total number of UK workers suffering significant stress, depression or anxiety is around 488,000 people, with 11.7 million working days lost. Back home, as per ASSOCHAM, 42.5% of corporate employees in India suffer from depression. These figures underline just how severe the problem is and needs the urgent attention of staff, managers and employers.
While focusing attention at the workplace, we unfortunately tend to overlook many other segments in our population who may have bigger challenges when it comes to matters of stress and related depression. One of them is the Indian Homemaker. For many Indian women, being a homemaker is a thankless job, and is destined to carry out their duties to the best of their abilities without any expectations or gratification. Lack of much needed “me-time”, years of self-neglect, social isolation, lack of appreciation and a damaged self esteem are text book causes for depression.
The term FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) has become so common over the years that it had got added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. FoMO is explained as a constant apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent. Nearly three-fourths of young adults said they have experienced this never ending cycle. This social anxiety is characterized by a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing. Marketing strategist Dr. Dan Herman who first identified FoMO says this is a result of everybody being constantly connected on mobile devices and social media. Moreover, negative statements on social media directed towards one can create a negative view of self. Furthermore, seeing status updates of others and even the likes someone else gets on a status makes people compare themselves against it, leading to feelings of self inadequacy, leading to depression.
The world’s richest people have enough money to maintain an abundant lifestyle that can last them for hundreds, if not thousands of years. However, unlike what logic may indicate, there is a higher correlation between depression and getting rich, as opposed to being happy and rich. Many rich and wealthy go through this dilemma, and the phenomenon was best summarized by the founder of Minecraft, who had sold his gaming company to Microsoft. About a year after his $2 billion deal, the young billionaire had tweeted, “The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance”.
It was a Sunday, and my sister had an early morning flight to catch. After dropping her, the drive back from Bangalore international airport was as easy as a breeze. The FM radio was a good companion on the lonely drive, and playing on it was a conversation with an associate of a leading foundation that works in the field of stress and depression. As the RJ asked her guest what final message she would like to leave with the listeners, her answer was simple yet meaningful. She said, “Stop addressing people with depression as paagal (Hindi for crazy)” and “do help someone in trouble”. Simply Said, Have a friend or Be a friend. Each of us is prone to crossing that thin crimson line at times, because stress and depression doesn’t discriminate. It’s we humans who do…
The author is Co-founder & Director @ BioQuest Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore based MNC that has been partnering with clients across the life-sciences knowledge value chain since 2005.