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Indian Men Driven to Depression

8 March 2009

By Subashni Naidoo

As economic crisis deepens, more breadwinners are falling victim

Pressure to maintain their wealthy lifestyles in tough economic times, and failed marriages, are driving a growing number of Indian men to depression.

Experts say the condition - long considered a female disorder - is affecting one in five Indian men.

They say a shocking 20% of Indian men are clinically depressed, which often results in drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and domestic violence. They believe the figure can be doubled because of victims' reluctance to seek help.

Chatsworth family practitioner Dr Krishna Nair says the prevalence of depression in the south Durban township has increased significantly among men in the past two years.

"The situation is worrying and is reaching epidemic proportions. Indian men are still conservative about their condition and there is just a fraction of people who seek help. There are still thousands out there who feel ashamed, thinking that mental illness is something they should not talk about," said Nair.

He said the greatest contributing factor was pressure to maintain a material lifestyle in tough times.

Other factors included:

  • Social conflicts such as divorce;
  • Problems with death and the dying of loved one;
  • HIV infections; and
  • Spiritual and religious conflicts, including witchcraft and conversions.

"With the advancement in our lives, it is becoming more difficult for people to survive, resulting in economic strain. I have seen patients who plunged into depression because they lost their jobs and were battling to make ends meet. Their vehicles have been repossessed and they may risk losing their homes after defaulting on bond repayments," said Nair.

The typical profile of an Indian male experiencing depression was no longer "middle-aged (above 35), family-orient ed, working class personality". It now extended to upper-class, high-flying businessmen and professionals.

Nair said the high divorce rate - more than 30% - among Indians was among the main drivers after economic pressures.

A cheating wife plunged Direndra Harrichandra Surju into depression 11 years ago. The Ladysmith sales adviser tried to kill himself nine times, but said he was grateful to have been given "one more chance" in life.

"I was an emotional wreck. All I could think of was taking my own life. I had no reason to live any more. Every new day seemed more and more painful, and I just wanted to put an end to my misery," said Surju.

His condition was so bad that he became a recluse for more than a year and did not bath, shave or cut his hair.

"Initially, I felt embarrassed to tell people about my condition and felt like an outcast. I was always worried about what people would think of me. But I reached a stage where I was forced to get help. I started abusing liquor to drown my sorrows. I also spent more than R90000 in four months entertaining my friends."

The head of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Zane Wilson, said the organisation had received a number of calls for help from Indian men.

"We receive more calls now than we did a year ago, probably up by 20%. The callers are often worried about people discovering that they are suffering from a mental illness. They feel strongly about their roles as breadwinners, " said Wilson.

A spokesman for SADAG in Chatsworth, Junade Magid, who suffered from depression 10 years ago, said there was a stigma attached to depression, as it remained a "big secret" in Indian communities.

Need Help? Call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group: call 0800 121 314 or 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393.

© Sunday Times, 2008.

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