As apes with an identity crisis, human beings can be described as any number of things – practical, creative, analytical, invasive, logical. But more than anything else, we’re creatures of emotion. Passion often overrides all logic within ourselves, whether personal or collective. And as such, much of what makes us so human is exactly what defies any sense of tangible logic – the actions of a love, fear or anger drive so much of what humanity has accomplished. We’re bound by feelings and emotions that can’t be quartered into neat boxes of logic. If music is what feelings sound like, humanity is the physical manifestation of emotion.
It’s because of this, perhaps, that often we apply attempted logistics toward emotions for the sake of understanding, or otherwise controlling them. There is, most prominently and importantly, the science. Much of what makes humanity is comprised of various chemicals within the brain, twiddling their chemical thumbs until it’s time to scoot over their neurological highway and do their chemical thing. This biological design is a force of patterns and variants. Second to this, we apply physical, external influences. Feel down? Go for a run, and so on. This goes hand in hand with the science and generally helps us apply everyday techniques to monitor and appease ‘the soul’. There is, however, another innocent yet potentially dangerous human trait. That’s the desire to dilute and generalize.
A promiscuity of personal logic, we tend to find ourselves applying reason we found to work in one personal situation toward another. But personal truths are, nevertheless, true. And as ever, truth avoids simplicity. Which is why, in lieu of comedic-legend-cum-cross-dresser Robin Williams’ recent passing, the awkward way in which depression is treated on the broader public spectrum has again reared its head. Social media following Robin’s death was less a graveyard of sorrow or cynicism and rather a field of touching tributes. You know a great figure has been lost when there are barely any snide statuses or tweets flying by to remind us all that people die every day and that there are bigger things in the world, even when said speaker doesn’t seem all too fussed about them other than as tools for their edgy contrary attitudes.
Through the open door left by Williams’ supportive fans blew the wind of care for others who may also be suffering the very real pain of depression. Samaritans opened their arms to remind sufferers of their presence and just as quickly as the “You’re free, Genie” images surfaced, so were they pulled, with people urging those wishing for the same kind of ‘freedom’ to first seek help. But amongst these personifications of online support, came the words of confidence. Images, statuses and profiles would emerge stating that to admit one’s depression is to admit strength – that someone who is depressed is purely someone who has just given up trying so hard and that someone who feels weak and alone at times is perfectly fine to do so.
That’s cool. The power of words can hold dangerous connotations. As statements become repeated, they also become diluted. No one approaches a statement cold, but rather apply years of experience and prejudice onto what they read and then affect how they infer the meaning. The author is dead and so their words are free to the linguistic necrophilia of outside interpretation. Whilst these words of support offer solidarity, and understanding light in an otherwise dark world, they fail to direct that light in any direction. People apply themselves onto what they read, and that’s why horoscopes are so fucking hilarious. And as such, someone feeling down may end up believing that they have depression. Such a terminological issue lies in the relationship between being ‘depressed’ and having actual ‘depression’. Even within their own spheres there are layers of differences. The issue with solidarity is it can create broad generalizations that don’t speak to people on a personal level – a level that those suffering from depression may be in dire need of.
And so comes the celebration of depression. People are so quick to wear the title as a badge, as an excuse for their behaviour, as a reason for them not to try – because to try is what makes us so human and to lose sight of it just cuts us down further. Debilitating though serious depression is to put the very real ailment on a pedestal that stands above you is to run the risk of it consuming you. Depression isn’t a state of mind that can be talked around. You can’t just ask someone to stop being depressed any more than you can ask someone to stop having cancer. No one can ask more of you than what you’re capable of, but you’ll never know your limits unless you try. Depression, very real depression, can be beaten or at least warded off. To tell people to not fight it and rather just accept it means that more people may fall off the wayside.
Intangible concepts are easy to talk yourself into. Depressed people can convince themselves their depression is worse than it is and guess what? It fucking happens. It gets worse. Life is weird and the hardest issue is that we’re not all born equal. This doesn’t denote a lower status, nor imply weakness, and likewise should have no effect on the way people should view themselves or others. Clinical depression is a very real thing and it affects many, many people in ways that cannot be seen, and yet we run the risk of diluting the severity of the condition with our efforts to create generalized solidarity. So before you make a post about how depression is just a sign that you’re someone “who cares”, think about the person who might see it, the person who needs real help and the person who may then refuse this help and choose to carry on living the same way because the instant gratification found in pinning an “I care” badge to their chest seems easier than at least trying to work through a condition that may result in them never being around to care again. Never assume you know more about a person than they do themselves. Don’t let the arrogance of blind kindness make others blind to their condition. Or, just upload that post anyway, because Facebook likes make you feel so fucking good, anyway.
Words by Laurence Williams
If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, speak to MIND on 0300 123 3393 or on their site, Samaritans on 116 123 or on their site, or CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or on their site.