Rafy Hay discusses mental health in today’s world
It’s Depression Awareness Week apparently, not that you’d have noticed. I didn’t until halfway through it. But it’s important. Right now, mental health is coming out of the shadows. For generations depression was covered up, stigmatised and shameful. Antidepressants were considered the preserve of stressed-out rich women, therapy was for neurotic New York filmmakers.
The recent emergence of depression as a national health crisis may have several causes. Our generation may be the first in modern history to be pretty certain we’ll have worse lives than our parents. We live in a world of stressful job-hunting, crippling debt for our working lives, and a depressing lack of control over our own destinies. For those of us who don’t live in marginal parliamentary constituencies – and that’ll be the vast majority of us – elections are almost meaningless. Apathy reigns supreme, and those who aren’t apathetic are desolate and powerless.
We also live in a brutal era in terms of what we see and hear. 24-hour news live-streams the world’s travails direct to our news feeds. There’s an increasingly hopeless situation in the Middle East and a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep we have very little power to reverse. Our bodies are constantly compared to unattainable ideals perpetuated by every other poster and music video, our gender roles are exploited by companies trying to flog products for twice as much, our lives never seem to match up to the flatteringly-filtered snaps of our friends’ Instagrams.
All in all, a bleak picture.
But the new connectivity afforded to us by social networks and universal access to the internet may also be the reason that depression is finally emerging out of the dark and into popular discourse. At the drop of a hat, we can talk and communicate with each other in an unprecedented way. And this constant communication allows us to see parts of our friends’ lives that previously would have been shut away or hidden.
Up to one in six people are estimated to be suffering from a mental health problem at any one time, and the stigma once carried by depression loses its strength when you recognise that several of your friends and acquaintances are struggling with it. When famous musicians, comedians and writers talk about their depression in public, and millions of people can see their interviews, articles and TED talks within minutes, the taboo is broken.
I write this article with a slightly more personal angle too. I have depression, as in fact do the majority of my closest friends. It comes and goes, peaks and troughs, but it can be a real struggle. On my bad days, I view the world and myself in a profoundly pessimistic way, I feel an overpowering sense of loneliness, sadness and frustration, my mind spirals into more and more destructive and depressed avenues.
One of the strongest things I feel is guilt. Guilt for my favourable circumstances and upbringing, for my inaction in the face of a brutal, unfair world. And also guilt for my large and supportive circle of friends and family. Many people suffering from depression have no such luxuries. I’m sociable and I suspect the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances would have no idea I’m getting therapy and medication.
That support is the key. I’ve managed to keep going and live a semblance of a normal life, largely due to the support of friends and professionals. The best thing that happened to me was my friend Max telling me to go and get help. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to do it. Max may very well have saved my life, and he’ll have my everlasting thanks for it.
If you’re reading this and it strikes a chord, don’t be afraid to get assistance. You don’t have to go through this alone, and nobody will think you’re being a “burden” or a pain. If one of your friends comes to you with something similar, tell them the same: reach out for help. They’ve already made half the step by opening up to you, now help them get a professional to do the rest. Support them, don’t pity them.
Clichéd as it is, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
The UCL Student Psychological Services were a great help to me, as was my GP. If you feel like you need urgent help, you can call 999 or go to the nearest A&E. The Samaritans’ number is 116 123, and there may be mental health crisis support links associated with your local NHS Foundation Trust.
Featured image: Rafy Hay