Growing up, we may have all heard the saying, "a healthy mind is a healthy body", yet when it comes to one's well-being, mental health is rarely a topic touched upon. With growing cases of depression across the globe, including depression in children, the need of the hour is to break taboo and create awareness. That's what 22-year old Kairavi Bharat Ram has set out to achieve through her newly published children's book that is like no other. Titled C is for Cat, D is for Depression, her book dares to speak about the subject of depression and make it comprehensible by children and adults alike.
A survivor of depression, Kairavi Bharat Ram takes readers on a journey from despair to hope through her thoughtful rhymes and metaphors along with beautiful illustrations by Priya Kuriyan. We at NDTV Swirlster caught up with author Kairavi Bharat Ram to learn about her experience in fighting depression and what made her come up with a children's book on this mental health condition.
Tell us about C is for Cat, D is for Depression. What made you come up with this book?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "Writing has always been an escape for me but I couldn't ever do it unless I felt super emotional or was moved enough. The first few poems I ever wrote were when my grandmother died and my dog died. For some strange reason, I needed to feel strong emotions to be able to put my thoughts down. So that was the only positive of being depressed. I felt strong emotions all the time! I would use different metaphors and examples in my therapy sessions and if some of them resonated really well with me, then I would write them down. And one day when I started feeling a little better and I felt my story had a little bit of power to inspire, I sat down and it just flowed out. 4 hours later I had written a piece of work that I was genuinely proud of."
You have written a children's book on depression. What do you hope to achieve?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "I hope to educate. On one level it's to educate children about mental illness so that if they ever feel this way, they can identify what's happening to them. But the person going through it usually understands. It's more to do with educating their peers, friends and even the adults around them. To paint out a picture of how it feels and to momentarily transport them into the dark world so next time their friend or child is suffering, they have a better idea on how to respond and support them. I also want to give people who are suffering words to help them express themselves. I was always an articulate child who could voice everything I felt. But most people around me struggled with that. I want to give them a treasure chest of metaphors and explanations to express how they feel."
As someone who has suffered from depression as a child, what have been your biggest learnings?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "I think my biggest learning was to be forgiving. I got 'sick' at a young age so all my peers were young too. I was so sensitive to their responses and to my problems that I would somewhere forget that it wasn't because they wanted to hurt me but because they didn't know better. I cut off so many friendships at that time and made myself lonelier than I was. I wish someone had told me then that we're all learning as we go and not to be so black and white."
What would you say helped you to fight depression?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "To be really honest I wasn't motivated at all. And I don't feel you'll be considered depressed if you felt motivated to fight it. That's the nature of the disease. But I will say no matter how much I felt like I had given up, the next day would come regardless and before I knew it, 3 years passed and I was still there but things did start improving."
Depression in children is a topic not often talked about. What do you think is necessary to break the taboo?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "I think it's important to draw a comparison between mental and physical health. To give them equal importance. Just like you would educate your child on COVID, its symptoms and necessary precautions so they can be careful and know what to look out for, educate them about mental illness too. Just like you would let them miss school if they had fever or a stomach ache, let them miss it if they have an anxiety attack. It works in the same way. Catch it early. Deal with it in the same way you would a disease and I promise we'll protect a lot more children that way. They say one in 3 people in America is depressed, which makes you think that if COVID is considered a pandemic, then what does that make mental illness?"
You've used rhymes and metaphors to talk about depression. What got you to do so?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "My therapist and I spoke in metaphors very often. She would try and make me view my thoughts as external bodies so that I felt I had more control. Instead of saying 'I'm having negative thoughts' we would say 'the radio of doom and gloom is back on' and however silly it sounded then, it did work. I started thinking along the same lines and using these metaphors to describe my emotions."
"I remember her asking me if she could write them down and use them to help some of her other patients and that's what got me thinking. In terms of rhyme, I was never a big reader growing up. The only books I was loyal to were Dr. Seuss and Julia Donaldson. The king and queen of rhyme, and that's how my journey started. Then I couldn't read anything that wasn't in rhyme and today I can't write unless it's in rhyme!"
Your book starts on a dark note, but ends with a lot of hope and positivity. Is there an underlying message there?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "It's the message that 'change really is the only constant'. The beginning of the book is black signifying darkness and it ends yellow signifying brightness and 'the light at the end of the tunnel'. For 3 years I firmly believed that nothing will change and I will never find life to be worth it again but I learnt if you hold on long enough, nothing can stop it for changing. Once you hit rock bottom, there is no choice but to go up. You just need to keep going till then and things will get brighter."
What do you see amiss when it comes to children's mental health and well-being today?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "I think it's the misconception that someone's life has to be really bad for them to be depressed. It's almost like if they don't have broken homes and terrible lives they don't deserve to have depression, which is crazy because it is nothing to desire. So I guess it brings us back to education. Don't hide realities from your children, you aren't protecting them. You are leaving them alone and confused in this very scary world."
What's your advice to young children who are fighting depression and their family?
Kairavi Bharat Ram: "Just keep swimming. I know it feels like it'll never end. I know it feels like everyone is going ahead and you are taking steps backwards but remember that you never know what's happening behind closed doors. You never know who else is in the same boat and chances are it's many more people than you think. There is no right or wrong time for anything. Once you get past this terrible phase you'll come out stronger than everyone else and then you'll be absolutely invincible."