On Depression

In my university’s newspaper, the Badger, on its issue published on October 12th, 2015, I read a Comment Piece by Benjamin Barnett titled ‘Is depression made worse by our society?’. This post is a critique on that piece.

The article piece raised some very important points about depression and suicide on this day and age. The statistics on depression and suicide are a growing concern, seeing how the situation only seems to get worse. A lot is done to raise awareness and to provide support but I do feel that the community can often be misguided on what’s causing this plague of depression amongst the younger population. Socio-political ideologies creep in this topic which in turn do nothing but alienate and misdirect the whole discussion forum.

Mr Barnett’s piece identifies 3 reasons as leading causes for depression and suicide:
1. Modern-day consumerism
2. Over-work
3. Societal suppression of creativity, individuality and liberty

Maybe it’s time for Mr Barnett to close his copy of Fight Club for a second.

The reasons mentioned above are not only vague but are only relatable for someone suffering from depression in the 1980s-90s. We are two decades past that. What the writer of the piece fails to see with his ideologically blinded eyes is that the evil fruits of capitalism like consumerism and expectation to be a docile and ‘unquestioned labourer’ are barely the leading causes for depression when you compare them against other suggested factors such as the internet; cyber-bullying and overexposure of personal life online.

To begin with, my initial critique on the piece begins with Mr Barnett’s stated opinion about how the rise in suicides in the 21st century, in comparison with the much lower stats in the earlier half of the 20th century, correlates to the ‘start of public consumerism’ and how we were ‘removed from our evolutionary past where creativity, individuality and liberty were prequisites for a normal existence’. When studying history’s Greats, it is often very easy to overlook the shadowed remaining public whose existence was so short and unremarkable. I fail to see how throughout history, values such as creativity, individuality and liberty was something not reserved just for the educated and rich elite – Ancient Greece, Medieval France, Victorian Britain. The poorer working classes were so pre-occupied with surviving the harsh realities of their times that little attention was given to pursuing ones study of the fine arts (writing, painting, music composing) or liberating oneself from the strenuous expectations placed upon them such as survival from plaguing diseases, religious adherence, political obedience to the ruling elite, and providing for ones’ family. Even in our far-back pre-historic past, individuality and liberty were still seen unfavourably since the pre-historic human had to work in a pack, in a social team, in order to survive and evolve. Creativity was only appreciated if it helped with the pragmatic evolution and not when it satisfied only personal growth – and yes, the creation of the prehistoric paganistic religion was a mean to survival and population control. In actuality, individuality and creativity are praised and taught in schools today in a much more active and publicly accessible way than from the not-so-long-ago generation of our grandparents.

Suicide was not so common in the old times because of reasons such as the religious deterrence surrounding it and also how it used to be a rarely talked-of taboo. My grandparents still believe that suicide is a great sin and in Cyprus the Greek Orthodox church may choose to deny providing burial ceremony for someone who has committed suicide – this comes as a great embarrassment and disappointment to the family. People used to live in much smaller communities where there was much more considerable critique on what you did. Although that can be seen as a very stressing burden it is much less painful than the feeling of alienation and detachment that a lot of individuals suffering from depression feel in today’s modern society.

The commentary piece talks of how the world is ‘at our fingertips, literally’ but sadly dismisses this very important point by simply expanding only on consumerism. The ‘instant gratification’ offered by internet shopping is more of a temporary sedative rather than a gradual build-up to depression. Instead a more pragmatic and more in-touch with the current times approach would have immediately recognised that one of the most evident impacts of the internet on depression is not ‘consumerism’ but instead what I can only describe as overexposure.

Through the internet we expose our vulnerable selves to all sorts of issues that have an effect on our psychosis.

  1. Exposing ourselves to all the hatred, pain and injustice that exists in the world
  2. Exposing ourselves to cyber-bullying
  3. Exposing ourselves to the lives of others, creating a false and unfair comparison

The world is tough and unfair, Mr Barnett talks about how we are a society of docile labourers but in actuality we live in one of the most, if not the most, data-accessible period of history. The internet offered a media-evolution to its users, now it is very easy to access news and information about other countries or events happening far away. With microblogging and the expansion of journalism to any user with a smartphone has resulted in a heavily integrated system that can emit and absorb trillions of bytes of data. It is impossible to remain docile in this day’s zeitgeist spirit of Information Vomit. Information is spilling from every nook and cranny of the web and even just a simple scroll through your Facebook feed can give you some update to what’s happening in the world. Therefore it is very understandable why a lot of individuals simply cannot cope with the unfairness and the negativity of this world when they are constantly bombarded with information about atrocities happening either at the other side of the globe or at the near city block.

The German public in World War II was strongly stating that they had no idea of what was happening to the Jews in the concentration camps. The propagandized films portraying the concentration camps as a recreational place where the Jews  were supposedly gaining life-skills and a re-education were indeed sedating the docile population which lacked the accessibility to information to see what was actually happening. Even from the Allied side, a lot of soldiers who liberated concentration camps said that they were unaware of the actual scale of atrocious actions that were undertaken by the Nazis. Nowadays this will never happen. At least not to that extent. Leaks of atrocities happening at concentration camps in North Korea, or photographs of Assad’s torture chambers’ victims are readily published to the public. The internet is not only there to shocks us about the cruelties of far-away dictatorial governments but also of our very own elected democratic ones – see the Abu Ghraib case that was published by Amnesty International.

When I first moved to the UK, I was so shocked when I noticed that nearly every day, on the BBC news, it was said that someone was murdered, or raped, or missing. Everyday. Everyday seeing pictures of a smiling person and right next to it a picture of devastated family and friends. With the Syrian War and Syrian Migrant Crisis, my Facebook feed is filled with shares of videos, that automatically start playing, featuring the lifeless bodies of children and babies being desperately clutched by their grieving parents. These things can very strongly get to you.

Cyber-bullying is another issue which mainly affects the younger generations and which the older ones seem to not be able to fully understand its magnitude. Old-school bullying has evolved into something that is virtually impossible for a victim to escape from. It used to be that when one was at the safety of his home, he could find haven from the bullying happening at, let’s say, school. But with cyber-bullying that follows you home and it is exacerbated more with the internet’s anonymity.

My last point on overexposure is how we end up comparing our lives with the ‘internet lives’ of others. We upload images and posts about the happiest times of our lives, we are typically very selective. Including vloggers. One of the biggest hits to one of the worst depression periods that I went through my life was when I was scrolling through Facebook and I could see, or better I thought, that everyone was leading a much happier and better life than me. I felt that I was the most miserable and loneliest person in the world. I felt that I was missing out on life, and that was because there was something wrong with me.

No. That’s not the case. People have their ups and downs and sometimes the downs can last for long, almost intolerable, periods of time. But you should never fall into the depressing spiraling trap of looking into other people’s online scrapbook of their daily life and compare yours with them. Don’t fall into that trap.

*****

This was my bit of critique onto not just Mr Barnett’s piece but generally any other outdated and non-pragmatic opinion out there which fails to see the real issues in this day and age face of depression. When we come to terms with the actual causes of modern day depression then we may in turn be able to give more informed support to those caught in its dark web. Ideology has its place and time. Depression and suicide is neither.

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