DEPRESSION IS NOT A CHOICE

“The kindness that’s shown to me by doctors as well as my family, and my friends, it’s really saved my life”
Lady Gaga

The current pandemic and the resulting global economic recession have negatively affected people’s mental health: social isolation and job loss are triggering mental health conditions. Trajectories of anxiety and depressive symptoms and trends in suicide have soared due to the outbreak of Covid-19 disease. As per a study conducted in the United States, depressive symptoms were three times higher during Covid-19 lockdown than before the pandemic. Some researchers revealed that loneliness and social isolation are more deadly than obesity or smoking.

Depression is a common mental disorder. It does not discriminate between people: depression knows no boundaries of age, gender, wealth, or status. Mental disorders are more common than we may think. They affect about 300 million people worldwide, that is to say, more than heart disease and cancer combined. One out of four women and one out of ten men experience depression at some point in their lifetime. Several celebrities, including Jim Carrey, Lady Gaga, and Michael Phelps, have battled depression.

Nobody chooses to have depression. The risk of developing depression is exacerbated by childhood trauma, such as violence, neglect, or sexual abuse; physical illness; poverty and unemployment; or life events, such as the death of a loved one or a relationship break-up. For instance, people who have recently lost their job are at greater risk for depression. Similarly, sexual assault victims are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression; a study revealed that people who have experienced rape or sexual abuse are three times more likely than non-victims of crime to have ever had a major depressive episode in their lifetime. According to the same research, rape victims are 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to have attempted suicide. Other forms of depression may appear out of the blue, without perceptible cause.

Unlike most physical illnesses, depression is not visible to other people. Most depressed people look like everyone else: people struggling with depression are not always sad; they can smile, laugh, and joke a lot while hiding their suffering. Depression causes the brain to stop functioning normally as it affects many important parts of this central organ. The combination of genetic and environmental factors causes an imbalance in brain chemicals.

Symptoms of clinical depression can appear in many different forms. Depression is characterized by intense low mood and sadness that is frequently accompanied by low self-esteem, a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, tiredness, appetite loss or gain, disturbed sleep, and poor concentration. These symptoms are persistent over prolonged periods of time, generally several weeks or years. It can have a severe impact on people’s daily life as many people suffering from depression often can’t function in the most basic tasks, like showering or brushing teeth. They have frequent mood swings and carry symptoms around like a heavy burden on their shoulders. Depression also affects people’s work, social life, and personal relationships. In many cases, this mental disorder generates more suffering and disability than any other disease. Yet, symptoms of ongoing mental distress often go unnoticed.

Undiagnosed and untreated depression carries a high risk of substance abuse and suicidal behaviors. According to the World Health Organization, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds worldwide. While many people think that suicide is a coward and selfish act, everyone is vulnerable to mental disorders.

Some research revealed that the excessive use of social media, such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, may be linked to depression. The impact of social media on mental health and self-esteem are becoming increasingly significant due to its sets of standards. People tend to portray a perfect life on social media as if everything was positive and celebratory. It fuels the feeling of envy and a habit of comparisons. “Depressed young adults are more likely to compare themselves on social media to people who appear better off than them”, stated Anthony Robinson, research assistant in the psychology department at Texas State University. The struggles faced by the people suffering from depression may also be amplified by the way others view their mental health illness.

Despite numerous campaigns to raise awareness of this growing phenomenon, depression remains highly stigmatized and is rarely discussed. As per a recent study, thirty percent believe that a weak personality causes depression. Some people even think that people with a mental illness are attention seekers or drama queens. These stigmas around depression have tremendous detrimental consequences, negatively impacting the help-seeking process. Many depressed people feel they are responsible for their own condition and feel ashamed to seek treatment.

A better understanding of mental disorders could help people with depression open up and feel a lot better.  For people experiencing depression, the support of family and friends is essential. If any of your friends, family members, or co-workers faces depression, do not hesitate to reach out and send messages of support. Just letting someone who is struggling know that they are not alone is the best first step. If you really want to help, consider having an open and honest conversation with positive help-seeking language. Encouraging someone to speak about their problems is a vital step that can make an enormous difference. Avoid using harmful expressions or words, such as “crazy”, “snap out of it” or “it’s all in your head”. Last but not least, encourage people going through depression to seek out the help of a health professional. Depression is an illness that needs to be treated, like any other physical illness such as cancer or diabetes, with appropriate therapy and/or medication.

Lucile Guéguen

Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5798266/
https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-01-millennials-odds-depression-social-media.html
https://www.who.int/news/item/09-09-2019-suicide-one-person-dies-every-40-seconds
https://mainweb-v.musc.edu/vawprevention/research/mentalimpact.shtml#:~:text=Rape%20victims%20were%20three%20times,heath%20problems%20are%20life%20threatening

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