On Depression, Society and the Future

This is a difficult topic for me to open up about, especially because it is so personal. I have always been more comfortable thinking and speaking in abstractions and general ideas, the sort of things that don’t demand confessional outpourings but, rather, focus on impersonal speculation. However, my depression is a burden I have had to live with now for many years and, truth be told, hasn’t really been getting easier – I would say that the contrary is probably more accurate. Today, I have something that I would like to say about it, an appeal that I think very important and I hope brings forth some consideration.

Insofar as depression is becoming more and more “shareable” and “accepted” in a lot of areas of life, there is still a long way to go before we can, as a society, claim that depression has become totally destigmatised and socially appropriated. Currently, there are major problems with the way depression is treated at both the medical and political level. The most up to date institutional thinking frames depression as yet another disease of which the world must be cured. It is an approach that often means prescribing a lot of medication, attending extensive and expensive therapy and perhaps, in due course, undergoing invasive brain surgery – a likely development if this over-medicalised and, in my opinion, quite reductive view of depression is allowed to persist unchallenged.

With all due respect to the medical profession, I do really believe that continuing to push the issue of mental health down this route is fraught with many dangers. Or, better yet, that it is especially dangerous if we do not, at the same time, seek out and invest in the conditions to bring about a possible second direction. This one, opposite to the “cleansing” ideal, would be much closer to a real “acceptance” of depression in and of itself. Instead of placing all energy and resources into finding/producing a cure (the possibility of which is very much up for debate), there would be a societal shift towards creating the time and space where depression could actually breathe and be lived with, as opposed to suffocated via intensive pharmacological and therapeutic interventions. Alternatively, but not exclusively, what I am here advocating for is a political intervention as well.

It is not hard to see why the option of drugs and psychological analysis, has so far been preferred and why that of transformative political action actually appears to have several revolutionary implications. Selling pharmaceuticals and therapy is more profitable, and has the ideology-sustaining benefit of situating all the focus entirely on the individual as the absolute space of problematisation – where the whole of disorder, from source to manifestation is located within the individualised body of each sufferer. Effecting political reorientation, on the other hand, demands contemplating depression on a scale that surpasses the physical bounds of each person, something which is naturally going to mean fewer money-making opportunities, fewer things to sell to the individual consumer, and, in lieu of that, a greater application of collective resources – put quite crudely, adventuring down this route is, of course, much more expensive and makes pretty much no money.

In practice, it would mean socially reassessing the work-life balance, creating more flexible professional conditions, refinancing support schemes for those who struggle to sustain full-time employment, as well as ensuring that there is a wealth of pockets within the whole where anyone can seek refuge and feel safe, free of shame, feelings of failure and fear of financial reprisal. Fundamentally, it means dropping this chronic belief that the individual can be completely self-sufficient, a self-enclosed site of cause and effect, and that the only reason why he/she/they may not get on in an atomised world is due to either laziness, weakness, carelessness or some other personal flaw.

If we are going to get excited about “acceptance” and “destigmatisation”, we need to make our society truly supportive of those who suffer – and this, of course, goes far beyond depression. As friends, family and generally empathic animals, we can continue to offer our personal time and our care (conversations, cups of tea, hugs…) and play a crucial role in guaranteeing one another’s mental health. But, as something greater than that, as a massive group of people made up of sufferers and non-sufferers alike, we should be demanding that the social fabric that keeps us together, cultural, political and economic, start to adapt itself to our uniqueness and limits and not the other way round. With that greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts power that collective existence gives us to accumulate the wealth of life in such abundance, we should demand that this wealth be used to sustain all life just as much all life goes into sustaining it.

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