Depression Is The Silent Killer In Our Society
We’ve come a long way as a society on fighting mental illness. There used to be a time, and maybe there still is in large parts of the world, where depression or anxiety was seen as forms of weakness. It was never taken seriously, never looked at as an illness but just failings on your character make-up.
The idea that money can wash away sadness, or that behind a smiling face isn’t a world of pain, got shattered I think by the suicide of Robin Williams. Materialism isn’t linked to happiness, it can only buy you distractions. There’s this story where someone goes to see a doctor and says they’re feeling depression. The doctor turns around and tells him that a comedian is performing that night and he might feel cheered up if he goes and watches, to which, the patient replies that he is the comedian.
For those who suffer from mental illness, understanding what they’re going through is the first part of the problem. The second is finding people to talk to. We live in a world where the word “depressed” becomes used to explain feelings related to the mundane everyday experiences rather than a deeper, more serious illness. And the sympathy of people can be limited; after a while there is an expectation on those with mental illness to simply move past their issues. This after all isn’t an illness you can visibly see.
If you’re from a religious family, it’s awful because there’s no sadness that a prayer can’t fix supposedly. And depression is seen as a lack of faith. The low energy, appetite and motivation to do anything, the distancing from the things you love, become seen as signs of weak faith. You’re told that maybe you’re being possessed by evil supernatural spirits, and you’re not allowed to scoff at this because you’re supposed to believe in this stuff. How many people in the Muslim world have to go through this because no one wants to believe that mental illness exists?
The victims of this tend to be young children or women who suffer from child abuse or vicious misogyny. Within some South Asian communities it results sometimes in women staying trapped in abusive, unhappy marriages because they don’t wish to bring shame or a curse upon their family. Children who are treated terribly growing up suffer from mental health problems as a consequence, unable to talk about it and instead internalise their pain.
Depression is also one of the biggest killers of men because the image of masculinity, of ignoring pain, of repressing issues, mean that men bottle feelings up rather than discuss them. “The Office for National Statistics published a report covering the years from 2001 to 2013, showing that suicide among men has reached its highest levels since the early Eighties, rising sharply in 2007 and hitting a peak in 2013.” We don’t talk about it; we’re told to “man up”, and that crying is for girls. So we keep it quiet, right up until to the moment some of us can’t take it anymore. Depression amongst men is linked to our understandings of masculinity, of patriarchy and feminism. From a young age, boys aren’t taught to accept they have feelings, but just made to bury it. And it literally kills.
We need to be a society where those with mental health issues feel confident enough to come forward and discuss their problems, rather than being blamed for either being weak or faithless. Ignoring mental illness simply abandons those suffering from it to lonely, awful lives.