Coffee to Coffin…a sad case of untreated major depression?

depression Mental Health

“How are you coping, Mohan? If anyone else was in your situation, he or she would have committed suicide,” a contrived business associate told me when I was facing a double whammy in my professional life: an arrest warrant from a Mumbai lower court for three bounced cheques that my company had issued to a tyrannical creditor and a SERFAESI notice (an auction notice) from my lending bank to auction my company’s land and buildings if I did not repay the term loan that my company had defaulted for over a year.

After running a successful pharmaceutical intermediate Company that was debt free and very profitable, I decided to move up the value chain and set up a US FDA compliant API facility. I borrowed Rs. 120 million for my dream pharmaceutical project and I had 12 creditors at my throat for overdue payments of Rs. 50 Million within a year of commencement. I borrowed additional  Rs. 50 Million at a monthly interest of 2% and 3% from private lenders to pay salaries to my workers and staff. I was utterly overwhelmed and under severe stress.

My dream of manufacturing and selling API’s and formulations to South America by setting up a world-class facility had turned into a nightmare when the project cost escalated to double the initial estimate. No entrepreneur ever starts a business with an objective of cheating banks or the public and running away with their money. He or she starts with a vision of building something meaningful and contributory to the society.

We all go through overwhelming situations in life when we are desperate to change the circumstances, but we cannot change them since they are totally out of our control. I desperately tried unsuccessfully to change the circumstances around me and the situation that I found myself in. Many thoughts crossed my mind while I was undergoing my business turmoil, but the thought of taking my life was never one of them. 

Fortunately,I was taking my minimal dose of my anti-depressants for my anxiety issues and they helped me from succumbing to the enormous amount of stress I was under. I kept up with my engagement with philosophy and spirituality. A few years earlier I had refused medication even after my own brother, a practising physician had told me that I was undergoing major depression. I trusted that Yoga and meditation would cure me and I struggled and suffered for nearly a year with cold sweats and panic attacks before I finally started my anti-depressants that cured me. 

Unfortunately, not all are lucky.

A billionaire coffee sultan recently succumbed to the unbearable pressure of the circumstances surrounding him and took his own life by jumping off a bridge. What was tragic was that the note that he reportedly wrote to the board was filled with his immense sense of helplessness, self-blame and guilt, three critical character traits of a person with major depressive disorder. Whether he was being treated or not, he certainly needed more help.

It is difficult for entrepreneurs and business leaders to recognize that they have mental illness behind their mood disorders and, too often, mistakenly attribute it to only severe stress. While stress is the biggest trigger of anxiety and depression, the reaction and course of action that one chooses to pursue is greatly influenced by the health of the brain and the mind. 

More often than not, it is competent and intelligent people who suffer from anxiety and depression. A large study in the U.S. surveyed more than 3700 members of Mensa, a society whose members must have an IQ in the top two per cent, which is typically about 132 or higher. The team asked about many factors, including mental health. They discovered that depression and anxiety were extremely common among Mensa members. The problem is more acute for entrepreneurs; smart people, often making themselves miserable by being too goal-oriented.

Despite known effective treatments, these smart people do not seek help and unbeknown, remain in denial mode. Untreated and severe depression may lead to attempts and feelings of stigmatisation or suicidal thoughts. However, many smart leaders do not recognise this and continue struggling denying themselves treatment. They trust their resilience and fortitude. Sooner or later the depression demon will wipe out all resilience and perseverance. That is when many are overwhelmed by painful emotions and see death as the only way out, losing sight of the fact that suicide is a permanent “solution” to a temporary state. All the people who try to kill themselves but live, later say they are glad they didn’t die. Diana Cortez Yanez, a suicide survivor, says, “my going out there publicly and saying I’ve attempted suicide and survived—I am living proof that things can be different.” Cortez Yañez is a hairstylist and public speaker originally from Mexico and raised in Tacoma, WA, USA.

Many suicides can be prevented when the people closest to the suicidal person know how to help their loved one. An individual considering suicide frequently confides in a friend, and if their friend or family member knows how to connect them with resources, may be able to convince them to seek treatment. When the risk is high, concerned friends and relatives should seek professional guidance.

There is a misconception about people who express helplessness and thoughts of suicide, that people who talk about suicide won’t do it. This is a wrong, and even dangerous, assumption to make as people who even think of suicide need counselling and professional support that may result in pharmaceutical treatment.

Suicide threats should always be taken seriously. The truth is that a few individuals are single-minded in their decision to kill themselves, but many are asking for help even as they contemplate suicide.

Suicide is the 9th leading cause of death in India, contributing to 3% of total deaths. According to WHO data, the suicide rate in India is 16.4 per 100,000 for women (6th highest in the world) and 25.8 for men (ranking 22nd).

We all go through difficult times and periods of high stress. Here are some basic suggestions to help you deal with stress and hard times more effectively—and hopefully keep you from falling into depression during testing times.. These proven tools help you feel stronger and more hopeful.

-Connect with others. Take time to be with people you like. I had my own family and my large extended family for support.

-Think of things that you look forward to doing. Could be a vacation or a convention.

-Get out of the house within an hour of getting up in the morning. Go for a walk in your nearest park. If there are no parks, walk around the perimeter of your roof.

-Make sure you sleep for at least 7 hours.

-Help others.

-Make sure you eat healthily.

-Read books on philosophy and spirituality.

-Confess your mental pain to someone you trust and seek help just like you confess a toothache and go to a dentist.

As far as your friends and relatives are concerned, watch out for any sudden behavioral changes or mood swings. Do not put them down by making light of their fears or anxieties. Lend your ears and help them out by getting them professional help. Depression is a genuine disorder of the brain. It is a biochemical imbalance and not a shortcoming.

Next time you sip your coffee, note that a lot can happen over a cup of coffee if you do it with your friends.


  • naren
    5th August 2019 - 9:58 am · Reply

    Very timely write up..A veritable mental check list to aspiring entrepreneurs to strengthen their mental and moral fubre

  • Murali Rao
    5th August 2019 - 10:26 am · Reply

    You are not only doing a great job of succinct writing of your life stories as well as a real nice website which people would love to come back to!
    Congratulations on job being done so well!

  • Parvathi vattam
    6th August 2019 - 1:47 am · Reply

    Sir hope you remember me.. I have been following your blogs for quite a few months and found them very interesting. The topics chosen and very apt and very well dealt . Awaiting for more of such blogs

  • Ravi S
    15th June 2020 - 10:16 am · Reply

    Your blog is nice sir,and the writing on such topic real need of the hour.
    Thanks for writing ,we expect more such writings in future.

    Ravi S
    SBI life insurance

  • Murali Rao
    15th June 2020 - 6:28 pm · Reply

    Brilliant writing on Depression,, experiential, as candid as can be.
    Can not thank you enough in the interest of millions and millions who do not even know what they are going through.
    Keep up the excellent work with your gift of writing .
    Love & Best

  • Sumukha Rao
    24th November 2020 - 12:07 pm · Reply

    Hello Mohan Uncle, That’s what I have called you during many of my meetings with you on the tennis courts.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. As entrepreneurs, we keep thinking that stress is part of the job and undergo lot of pains. It is only when you are in dire need of support system which is non existent (in my case) is when you start feeling jittery. I know that it is a passing phase but to deal with it during the time of need is the most difficult part.

    Would love to meet and discuss more of your experiences.

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After being threatened by a Bangalore mob boss, retired Indian businessman Mohan Ranga Rao takes a vow to trek around Mount Kailash, a holy Tibetan Mountain revered by over a billion people. What starts out as merely a challenging high-altitude trek soon becomes a life-changing adventure. With a blend of humour, honesty and keen insight, Mohan journeys toward a deeper understanding of the world around him. A memoir of a road less travelled and a true story of self-discovery at 19,000 feet.

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