Depression: The Social Perspective
Despite the devastation of the recent bushfires in Australia, the longest and worst wildfire in the world went on for almost a year in 1974 in Australia. The most detrimental thing about a wildfire is the fact that it doesn’t only affect the area it’s burning. It releases ash into water, which makes the whole vicinity dependent on bottled water, it ruins property and homes, and it kills livestock, which impacts how people make a living. On a phone call one day to a friend, the words ‘I think I might be depressed’ were uttered back to me. My stomach dropped, the powerful impact equivalent to a wildfire rapidly spreading in front of my eyes. Despite being exposed to this continuously while working in the NHS, it shook me to the core. Because this was different. It was personal. And it didn’t just effect him but everyone around him.
Everyone says it. You hear this stuff in the news but it will never affect you. It won’t collide with your life. I knew that he was a bit down lately. His year got worse and worse as they continued to take blow after blow until they weren’t able for it. Their motivation was non-existent. And this wasn’t the sadness you feel after a break up where you listen to Bon Iver while shifting yourself from a Ben and Jerry’s tub to your pillow. This was a depression where you just can’t get out of bed to eat, to use the bathroom, to do anything. And it’s difficult to explain by words. Most people can’t explain it. It’s just constant pain. You try to fight it with your thoughts but they too get tired and eventually give up. They too then start getting negative and you have no more energy to fight against them. How many buckets of water will you throw at the forest wildfire before you give up? This post deciphers the social causes of depression: Lack of social support, difficult life events and how society views depression.
When a bushfire hits, a strong sense of community is created. You experience warmth when you see thousands donate to the cause and firefighters are sent from all over the world. The fire doesn’t stop burning but there is a sense of hope. This is the impact of social support for someone who is depressed. As mentioned before, the reason why connection is so important is that is makes us feel good, but also because when we are in a low place, we need someone to talk to. Other people help us correct our unhelpful thought patterns and it helps integration between our left and right brain. With nobody to talk to, we become trapped in our own mind surrounded by unhelpful thoughts and we start believing and acting on them.
On top of this, we all go through difficult times but some more so than others. If one’s social environment is bombarded with difficult life events like death, bullying and failure, then one is far more likely to become depressed. This is why parenting and teaching is so important. It is their role to not make the child avoid these difficult problems but to help them through them. The social influence is extremely important because even if a child is biologically predisposed to suffer from depression, the child who grows up in a loving environment might never need to suffer from it. Thankfully, it is the social aspect that gives us hope. We have some level of control over the social factors we face but these interact closely with the psychological factors. And finally, a big influence is the way the world sees depression and unfortunately, it’s not great at the moment. Emotional education is squished into a curriculum that is only given a half hour a week and sometimes neglected completely. Outside of school, people are afraid to open up because nobody wants to be around the sad guy and unhelpful emotion regulation strategies such as alcohol and drugs are normalised while helpful emotion regulation strategies such as going to see a psychologist are shunned. The government also promote this stigma by giving essentially no funding to mental health services, with then leads to higher waiting lists, more distress and the problem going in an endless cycle of sweep it under the carpet. Society is throwing alcohol on the fire.
So there you have it. Depression is not somebody randomly getting sad. It is a combination of biological factors such as chemical imbalances, combined with psychological factors such as unhelpful thinking patterns, and social factors such as no social support. These factors extrinsically intertwine to result in a sense of sadness that is disabling. Being better educated on this can help us fight against it better. Appreciating the biological factors makes depression as ‘real’ and any physical illness. Understanding the psychological influences can help us prevent the symptoms on a day to day basis. And valuing the social impact can make us how we play a role in how depression is dealt with everyday. Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.