It is not often you can write about depression with complete clarity, for many people the impetus to write is another life far from depression. For now, I have found the willpower to do so; 1 in 6 of us in the UK currently suffer from a common mental health problem, likely depression and anxiety, both becoming a lot worse since lockdown began over a year ago. While we are not in a world war, this battle is more discrete, festering inside your head. One moment you are flying high, the next you have been mentally hijacked by an emotional suicide bomber.
Maybe it is the constant lockdown teasing by the government, maybe it is that relationship you are still recovering from – ‘what am I saying?’ – ‘It’s probably just me’ we continue tell ourselves.
Depression can throw you off track, from your personal life to your professional life and even your social life (or what we have left of it). It feels like you are stuck at the bottom of a well, nothing anybody says or does seems to soothe the erratic mood swings, no energiser can pull you out of bed – work is a series of miscalculation and awkward attempts at being jovial. Depression is not just sadness, by osmosis, it seems to alter your perception of those around you. Your mind unplugs itself from reality and you begin to consciously float towards uncertainty.
Although not clinically diagnosed myself with depression, I should probably seek to understand my mind a little more. I do not quite know what else I would call it other than temporary depression. Usually, my own dark spells blow over in a couple of weeks, but this is not how you should be dealing with such an issue. Alas, I push through the rough days and linger on in the hope it does not return, only to thump back a few weeks later.
The part of me that continues to dismiss it as clinical depression becomes particularly vocal in these darker periods, ‘we all get a bit sad sometimes’ a friend or family member chimes; in a momentary rush of dopamine, the ignorance to my depression is bliss. ‘I am normal, everybody gets sad, right?’ Echoing those around you.
Do not do it because its absurdly ‘trendy’ to have an issue we are told by those seemingly immune to low moods, ‘it doesn’t make you special’, your brain tells you. ‘Don’t be one of them, you are fine, trust me’ the chatter continues.
You continue to listen because reason always trumps emotions in the mind of an ambitious man.
The cycle continues, as if you are a child who has grown up in a prison, you know nothing different, the same record but on shuffle mode, the same depression just a different means of cloaking the sadness this time.
Depression can be a never-ending battle when you do not address it. I am not asking you to visit your GP and pop a Prozac, because you are not mentally defective, you are a product of a society that prioritises profit over inner peace. It can be easy to fumble through life with thick skin and a high brow because you have everything you supposedly need, if it was that simple, we would flip the current social order and make sure everybody has what they want, on demand.
When we talk of a mental health crisis, we speak as though it is a new phenomenon; when it is actually part of the human experience and arguably, always will be. A lack of serotonin in the brain, doctors and the wider pharmaceutical industry have told us. Our low serotonin levels are just the beginning of something we have far more control over than first thought; a power that no capsule can surpass.
According to ONS, 20% of British people are suffering with moderate to severe anxiety; if low serotonin equals depression, which has risen dramatically during the pandemic, treating it as a chemical imbalance is misleading. Up until recently, when told we may be diagnosed with depression, we are made to feel it is a glitch in our biological makeup. Sometimes it can be, nobody is born in the same starting block, but largely our depression epidemic is a result of our immediate environment.
Rates of depression are surprisingly low in countries without widespread access to technology and or ties to an innately capitalist environment. We live in countries where status, wealth and material possession are the anchor to our self-esteem, spending years paper chasing just to feel connected to the world around us is zero sum game. One in which winning would assume that heaven is in our reach.
It is no secret that the world least depressed countries are in Asia-pacific region, where the pervasive culture of collectivism stands in stark contrast to our individualistic societies here in the west. It can be said there is less access to mental health services in Asia where such an issue has not been popularized, but statistics from the world health organisation are overwhelming – 7 of the 10 most depressed nations are in Europe where arguably consumer culture cannot be escaped.
The 3 anomalies are Brazil, who suffers from persistent political corruption and petty crime, alongside the U.S. and Australia; both wealthy yet embedded in consumer culture. Further anomalies are nations experiencing conflict and humanitarian crises, yet the overall picture is clear.
Capital does not equal happiness; our primitive minds did not work like that and we are a long way from them abandoning those prehistoric elements. It may feel normal to scroll through Instagram for hours on end, but it is certainly not natural. Humans need real connection, they need to laugh, cry, and share the best and worst moments with the people who matter most. Not forgetting work that fulfils them and maintains a sense of dignity.
Community is being abandoned in the pursuit of hollow online connections and our sanity is being tested by an increasingly isolated pursuit of our hopes and dreams. We can be quick to blame technology because we are the ones who consume it, but it is when reliance kicks in, we are the ones consumed, and the more animalistic avenues of our brain cannot regulate the constant stimulation. It does not remotely mirror a tightknit support network that is so inherent in human nature.
To feel that immense sadness, that pure lack of drive to anything is not a faulty neural pathway in the brain, it stems from a need to connect, to experience all that life can bring, for a common theme and a story to bring us back into the fold. We cannot understand our own lives if they are simply lived alone; and with a lack of emotional support, we cannot be caught when we fall nor comprehend the enormity of our achievements. Make that first impression and get to know those around you, be the problem solver and discover the richness of life on earth.
As we come out of lockdown, friends and families will rejoice, hugs will be exchanged and once again, we can all be together. That sense of community could make somebody’s day and even save their life, when it comes to depression, we need to be thinking bigger, spend some more time focusing on what makes us tick and likewise what is bringing us down. If the dark cloud remerges, look to the past and look to your anxieties, the ability address is the only way to redress and only after we confront ourselves, and reach out to those around us will we emerge once again from this culturally embedded depression.