In sooth, I know not why I am so sad. It wearies me; you say it wearies you. … And such a want-wit sadness makes of me, That I have much ado to know myself.William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
Commonly understood as when everything feels too hard, depression is as old as time. Dating all the way back to Mesopotamia, this condition was perceived as spiritual rather than physical. It was associated with demonic possession, so priests were asked to deal with it instead of physicians. Through the years, different philosophies had singular views on this condition, but it was the 19th and 20th centuries that gave place to psychoanalytic, behavioral, cognitive, biological, and medical explanations. Correspondingly, the abstraction of the subject allowed for a wide range of treatments to emerge.
Now characterized as a medical illness that negatively affects the way you feel, think, and act, depression is characterized by sadness and loss of interest that interrupt a person’s daily activities. Its symptoms vary depending on the person affected and biochemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors can influence its intensity.
If this condition is rather old and we are living in an era where health is pioneering, why is this problem rising instead of falling? Depression is a growing problem in modern society and while a variety of elements can account for this phenomenon, the rising trend that glorifies mental illness should also be considered since using this term to exaggerate passing moods may hinder the efforts to help those who really need it.
Widespread across different socioeconomic, geographic, and age groups, depression is the leading global disability and the 10th leading cause of early death. One of the reasons for this is an aging population (who are more likely to suffer than any other age) and rising stress and isolation in younger generations. People now tend to be overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, and sleep-deprived and these habits increase depressive tendencies since physical wellbeing is closely tied to mental health. A decline in physical health could partially account for the intensification of depressive tendencies, but more abstract tendencies, like behavioral changes in our interactions, could account for the rest.
The modern world is generating social changes that translate into psychological revolutions, especially in the youth. Two features of modernity should be highlighted, meritocracy and perfectibility.
The former tells us that success is possible if you have talent and you are willing to work hard, which conversely suggests that if you are not successful, you must lack talent or you are lazy. It pretty much states that those at the top are responsible for their success and those at the bottom are responsible for their failures. This perception that transforms what could be a matter of dice-luck into an unavoidable consequence of being a loser is highly dangerous.
The latter says that it is up to us to be happy, sound, and accomplished. This can cause us to loathe ourselves, feel weak, and sense as if we have wasted our lives, all because we felt we had to be perfect all the time. Our inability to understand that perfection is not necessarily reachable places a giant weight on our shoulders, one that can easily overwhelm us and harm us.
Despite the evident weight of these factors, there is a third feature that is deeply concerning: people seem to fall in love quite easily with the idea of being depressed. Up to a certain point, we seem to have made depression part of pop culture.
We have designed a culture that romanticizes poor mental health through songs about self-destruction, movies about rock-bottom, and TikToks about suicide. Some years ago, the stigma surrounding mental illness prevented us from openly discussing it, so we begged for awareness. Unfortunately, it is possible that we crossed a line and praised the problem itself. Mainstreaming depression has made us disregard those who are truly affected by this condition and, while a portion of people do use this romance as a coping mechanism for their pain, others can simply be unmindful.
Depression. That word we throw around so easily nowadays. That word we use to describe anything from a bad day to an overwhelming inability to live life. But as anyone with depression knows, it is much more than any word can describe.Jannah Walshe, Depression – An open letter to someone struggling
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), to be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must be present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. This is a life-threatening condition that deals with the absolute incapacity to see the glass half-full despite your best efforts.
You can be depressed because your favorite character on that TV show died or because your Word document was not saved because these events can act as triggers. Depression is not always caused by a loved one dying in a car crash or long-lasting unemployment or childhood traumas. Your feelings are valid, you have your own threshold, and you deserve care and attention. The problem with this popular sense of depression is that exaggeration may prevent people who exceedingly struggle with this condition from being properly considered.
The exposure on mental health we are seeing can be helpful to destigmatize the matter and be more understanding towards the people who suffer from depression. We merely need to be cautious and mindful to avoid glorifying what, at the end of the day, is an unfortunate condition that affects 280 million people in the world.
For more information regarding depression or other mental illnesses, please refer to a mental health professional.