There’s been a lot of coverage on the topic of depression lately. While this spike in interest is great in that it helps raise awareness of the mental disorder, there is another rising trend on social media that is both worrying and maddening. Tan Lili explains.
The word depressed has been thrown around rather flippantly in everyday conversation (“Is it Monday already? GAH I’M SO DEPRESSED!”). But even though we know better than to dismiss a person’s unpleasant feelings, there is a need to put it out there that feeling sad is not the same as depression.
First things first, let’s take a quick look at the stats. A World Health Organization (WHO) study in 2012 found that more than 350 million people around the world suffer from depression, which is ranked the leading cause of morbidity in developing nations in the next century. According to a 2010 Singapore National Mental Health Survey, 6.3% of Singaporeans will experience at least one episode of clinical depression in their lifetime.
Before we ask ourselves if we’re part of the 6.3%, we’ve got to understand what depression is and what it isn’t.
Where symptoms of clinical depression last for at least two weeks and will continue for about six months if left untreated, sadness comes with it a comforting hug that says, “This too shall pass.” We all experience fleeting moments of sadness every day; it’s a perfectly normal human emotion. And while some of those moments may last longer that we’d like, they don’t (A) kill the important neurons in our brain; (B) stop you from enjoying activities you’ve always enjoyed; and, most importantly, (C) they shouldn’t trigger suicidal thoughts.
Depression is a sickness, a disease, a mental disorder that makes the person feel as if a thousand tiny glass shards were being driven into his body, leaving him to bleed while he is awake and aware of it all – a product of his warped imagination, but a disease all the same. The reason: Depression is neurotoxic; it changes the way your brain prioritises things. The scan of a healthy brain is different from that of a person suffering from clinical depression. As Dr Stephen Ilardi, a US-based clinical research specialising in the treatment of depression, puts in in Psychology Today, “depression is shorthand for a debilitating syndrome – major depressive disorder – that robs people of their energy, their concentration, their memory, their restorative sleep … their ability to love and work and play. The disorder actually lights up the brain’s pain circuitry, inducing a state of suffering far exceeding that of any physical discomfort.”
All that means depression is no more a choice than is being diagnosed with cancer, and which also means telling a friend suffering from depression to “snap out of it” is no more helpful than telling a cancer patient the same. “When those suffering from depression confide their diagnosis to friends and family, they’re often met with relative indifference, born of the assumption that the patient is afflicted with mere sadness – a condition from which they can quickly and easily recover,” says Dr Ilardi.
However, the good news is, as with any medical condition, depression can be managed. Using a combination of strategies – medication, counselling, etc. – the treatment is effective for up to 80% of those suffering from depression, according to WHO.
If you think you or a loved one could be suffering from depression, visit this page for a list of mental health support services in Singapore.
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On social media, we see the word depression being used very loosely. Dr Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry expert, told The Atlantic that in today’s digital age, “there is a lack of critical understanding … You see kids self-identifying as having that depression, but they don’t have a depression. They’re upset, or they’re demoralised, or they’re distressed by something.” The strange thing is, this romanticising of depression doesn’t just affect impressionable teens; take a look at Tumblr and Instagram, and you’ll notice many adults glorifying the “beauty” of suffering. Even I – EmoGal84 – do it sometimes, I’m not going to lie.
The problems with romanticising depression are that (A) many are led into believing they are depressed when they aren’t, and (B) it unfairly downplays the gravity of those truly suffering from depression.
The bottom line: Depression is not the same as everyday sadness, nor is it a Like-bait. Let’s stop romanticising depression, please?
About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.