What is Depression?
For many years the subject of depression has been approached by many with mixed reactions. For most, it is a social construct that has been imposed on society by psychologists for the sole purpose of keeping their professional field complex and relevant; a carefully crafted out agenda. For others, it is a real ailment that plagues the minds of many people and has become one of the top researched mental disorders of our time. The Oxford dictionary defines depression as:
“A mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep”.
This definition adequately captures what lies at the crux of the term depression. Research has shown that depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in the world. In the United States, for example, it is estimated that about 17 million people suffer depression on an annual basis. Questions have emerged over the course of such research questioning whether or not depression is a social construct, or simply a condition that is influenced by hereditary factors. The general consensus has been that depression has always been a mental health problem commonly identified with humans and will probably continue to be so as long as humans still have life and experience the challenges and nuances that go along with life. In order for us to fully understand depression in its entirety, we must first go back in time to its history and when it started.
History of Depression
Before the invention of modern medicine, depression was referred to as “melancholia”. In those days, people who struggled with depression were believed to be experiencing demonic attacks and so they were referred to religious priests who would try to heal them. Thankfully, we have moved past that stage and more awareness has been created over past decades in regards to what depression really is, and how to approach people who struggle with it with empathy and compassion.Though depression is a major illness that affects the human race, alters lifestyles and increases mortality rates, it is still not taken seriously in many countries and cultures around the world. Some cultures do not regard depression because of their history or religious affiliations.
The African-American people, for example, have had a long-standing culture of perseverance and endurance that originated during the Atlantic slave trade.This event disrupted and changed their lives for many generations to come. Stories were passed down from great grandfathers down to great- grandsons about the chains of events, and many books have been written about it. As a result, these events set the tone for the future of many young African-Americans, and their mental well-being continuing into the twenty-first century.
Research carried out by psychologists have shown that irrespective of their social, economic, or educational backgrounds, depression is something that many African-Americans still grapple with. In his co-authored book, Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis among African-Americans, Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint delves deep into the subject of African-American depression and tries to give a reasonable explanation about why the suicide rates among African-American men doubled from the years 1980-1995.
One of the strong arguments that Poussaint presents, although from a spiritual perspective is that African-American men see suicide as a better alternative as opposed to continuing to live in a society that does not favor them in terms of basic social rights. Mental health as a disease is stigmatized in the African-American community and so it because of this, it has become a challenge for people who fall under that group, and live in a specific social class to actually find treatment when such conditions persist. There is a gender aspect to this as well because African-American men specifically in that community do not seek help, as they are expected to be mentally and emotionally strong.
The American Psychiatric Association has estimated that about 5-10% of African American men suffer from depression, and with little access to treatment due to minimal resources and fear of stigmatization, these men almost never truly get the help that they need. The fear of social stigma that comes with being classified as mentally ill tends to be the major reason that African-American men do not seek help when they are faced with such challenges. Most African-American men who suffer some form of mental illness seek to mask their pain through the alcohol and hard drugs which of course compounds issues further. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by the year 2020, depression will be among the leading causes of disability worldwide and will also be the leading cause of other diseases especially among older people, therefore adding to the public health concern about depression is it’s projected increase in the aging population.
Why does this matter?
The topic of depression is significant because it is a condition that is adversely affecting many people around us, not just African Americans, but also a majority of people around the world. Like I mentioned earlier in this article, most societies tend not to be completely accepting or understanding of the idea that depression is a real mental disorder that can affect a human being’s ability to act efficiently as a viable member of society. Nigeria for example, which happens to be the largest country in Africa, has some startling statistics related to depression. According to the World Health Organization, Nigerians have slumped to the rank of the most depressed people from being some of the happiest people on earth. This was the conclusion contained in the latest figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which show that Nigeria has about 7,079,815 sufferers of depression, which is about 3.9 percent of the entire population. Although some awareness has been created about the perils of depression and the longstanding effect that it can have on even a subset group of people in society, there is still a long way to go. Our collective social responsibility when it comes to such issues cannot be emphasized enough. We must show kindness, compassion, and empathy to those who are bold enough to admit that they struggle mentally.
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, know that all hope is not lost. You were placed on this earth for a reason and although depression clouds our sense of self and purpose, we are here on this earth for something bigger than ourselves. There will always be some bad days, but don’t let that ruin the many good days. Take your medicine, exercise, if you are religious, pray. Everything will fall right into place as it is supposed to, just believe. It does not just stop at believing though, beyond believing, you as an individual must do the deep thinking to discover your likes, dislikes, and the true essence of who you are. Sometimes depression can cloud our sense of reason. It might make us believe that we need to rely on other people for our daily doses of happiness, and when they under-deliver, we fall into a downward spiral of unhappiness again. Look into ways to improve your mental health as well, take baby steps, one day at a time and one day, everything will fall into perspective, but until then, baby steps.