Festivals connote gaiety, colour, fun and frolic, good food, greetings and get-togethers. Therefore, little wonder that people and even a large section of mental health experts in our country have never really fathomed the possibility of festival triggered depression.
In the West however festival depression is not an unrecognized issue. "There are really three categories of people who are prone to festival depression as observed in my decade of mental health counseling," says Radha Borpujari a counselor based in Guwahati who consults in a private hospital.
"The first category is actually very large and heterogeneous. Many unmarried men and women, especially in and after their late thirties, widows and widowers and also many people who have undergone divorce or separation (and are still single) are very prone to depressive mood episodes during festival times," says Borpujari.
"And obviously the cardinal reason is easy to understand: a heightened sense of loneliness. Our Indian festivals are all about group activities. Nearly all the traditions associated with these festivals need to be observed with family members. Now with the rampant disintegration of the joint family setups, family is largely an institution defined by a married couple and their children. Therefore single adults, especially if their parents are no more have nowhere to go and feel belonged during festival times," Borpujari offers her unconventional yet very real take on festival depression.
One might argue that there are friends and siblings to celebrate with. However, this is not a choice for many. "Most of my friends are married and hence I feel awkward to be a part of their very private celebrations despite the fact that many do extend invitations out of genuine concern," says Rima Ganguly (name changed) a 39 year old single lawyer. "Also the fact that I am usually the only one invited by these very kind souls makes the situation all the more awkward. I invariably make an excuse and not go," she adds.
In the West however festival depression is not an unrecognized issue.Niharika Chaliha, a 37 year old dentist from Dibrugarh who is based in Guwahati is in agreement with Ganguly and adds that not having a boyfriend or steady partner complicates her own situation. "For instance I do get invitations to pre Diwali night celebrations and dussehra dinners but end up not going as almost everyone arrives with a husband or steady partner."
Borpujari also observes that today festivals have become displays of pomp and splendour rather than internalizing the actual meaning (and essence) associated with them. "Wearing the best outfits, dining in at the best restaurants, putting up the most electrifying decorations and buying the most expensive gifts for one's family has become more important that understanding and internalizing the beautiful and profound meanings of every festival. Everyone is trying to outdo their contemporaries and uploading pictures of their revelry on social media," she observes.
Given this backdrop, very few genuine people actually remember to look up on their older relatives. "Bluntly put many senior citizens end up feeling depressed and alienated during festivals. It is particularly tough for the ones who have lost their better halves or are suffering ill-health," states Borpujari.
According to Borpujari, the second category of people who are prone to festival depression include the ones who are anyway prone to stress and the ones who are sticklers for perfection. "These people want everything to be perfect in terms of the festival experience and when this does not happen they become upset and irritable," she explains.
The third category of people is actually the opposite of the other two categories. "These are people who look up festival dates right after buying New Year planners and calendars. They spend weeks and months in anticipation and meticulously plan and prepare for the actual days. Therefore this group is vulnerable to post festival blues," Borpujari sums.