Is depression a first world problem? Is there anything to be said in favour of the “Snap Out Of It School of Mental Health”? Is the current discussion on mental health a trend, like any other cause du jour, that will fade into fad oblivion when The Guardian moves on to the the next quasi-hipster, celebrity speak-out fest?
There is a hypertrend on apps such as Instagram to share inspirational pictures, usually featuring clouds and emerging sunlight, that aim to brighten the minds of the depression afflicted. Lovely, thanks. I feel great now that you’ve reminded me there’s a big blue sky up over the seemingly interminable greyness. But could you tell me how to get there? It’s just that I don’t have the emotional funds to buy myself a plane trip to the brightbluesphere.
There is, of course, the other side of social media that aims to showcase the darkness of the depressive trend: posting pictures of your self harm scars. Right. A bit like thinspiration or fitspiration, which are just as rampantly en vogue, but “Look at my cuts; I’m way more fucked up than you”.
I went on a date with a guy one time who told me he’d gone out with a girl who self harmed and when he saw how symmetrical the scars on her thighs were he thought they were the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen and they turned him on. I knew there wouldn’t be a second date. Apart from him being exactly the type of man every woman should probably avoid, he’d hate my scars, they’re all over the place.
I really liked this spoof article from the irreverently brilliant Waterford Whispers:
This time next year, will we all be guzzling New York Times articles; TED Talks; apps and BBC 4 documentaries about nostril hair health and the stigma around those shameful protruding spikes? What bandwagon will we jump on next here in the developed world where our infant mortality rates are low; our water is clean; vaccines are taken for granted and food is for pleasure as well as survival?
Are we always in search of a cause? Do we crave a source of complaint? TB; Cancer; AIDS; road traffic deaths; heart disease; stroke; MND: it looks like mental illness and suicide is the next big charity bucket to be filled with ice and spare change?
Death is a natural part of life. Life, when you think about it, is death. Everyday we die another day towards the ultimate passing. So why do we try to rail against it? Why is death such a tragedy? Such an injustice?
The death of one person isn’t a “tragedy” in the classic definition of the word. The death of an individual is, unfortunately, life. It’s directly inversely proportional how we label a car accident where one person dies a “tragedy”, overstating its magnitude in the grand scale of things compared to a massacre, or genocide or a natural disaster of epic loss and destruction: overstating the event while at the same time being unable to name it for what it is: a death. Death becomes a “passing”; he’s “gone”; she’s “longer with us” among other more child friendly euphemisms. Journalists will never name a suicide: “he died tragically”, why? Is this to protect the family, the memory of deceased, to avoid shocking their readers? Not for one second am I underestimating the impact of suicide – to the family involved it’s the most bitter end to a life that could have been saved but in not naming a suicide, in euphemising it we are skirting the issue of how many people die by their own hand when they don’t need to. We are all too liberal with the word “tragedy”, maybe we should be as forthcoming with the taboo of “suicide”. Calling it anything other than what it is undermines the impact of having a loved one lost to a choice they did not have to make.
Death is essential. Suicide is not.
Sir David Attenborough commented on a documentary I watched a few years back that the world’s population had tripled in his lifetime. It would make sense that with a rise in people there be a rise in suicides. Also as this world becomes more and more densely populated it becomes more competitive and complicated. I wonder what suicide rates are like in the few indigenous tribes untouched by modern globalisation? Is it naïve of me to think they must be lower than in the frenetic, complex and draining world of tech industry led society in which we live?
Why is western death more significant than developing world tragedy? Why did Robin Williams’s suicide take up more column inches and news minutes than did the ongoing crisis in DRC:
I bet you read that article and thought, “I knew nothing about this! What a gross injustice! The media is racist!” But you’ll forget about it when you pass by a row of papers and magazines in the newsagents on the way home from work and suddenly Kim Kardashian’s “struggles” and Graham Dwyer’s face are jack hammered into your retina.
Why are famous people mourned by the plebby masses? When Princess Diana died, you’d think it was their own mother the way some people went on. I don’t get that. They didn’t know her. These highly intense outpourings of grief for someone you don’t know.
We have this collective distress set aside for high profile cases like Diana, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, Ayrton Senna or cases where a child is murdered will sometimes catch the public’s opinion. But why that celebrity? Why that child? It’s always sad and often blindly angering when someone dies, especially a young person, but what makes their death more newsworthy (and let’s face it, it’s the media’s job to sell the news so they will revel in public heartstring and anger stories) than rapes, abductions and murders in the developing world? Only the case of Jyoti in India last year really hit the big time in terms of headlines here, serving as a catch all for the thousands of Indian women assaulted every day. Africa is even below India on the top stories scale, maybe because of India’s British colonial past and our news is very much steered by the British media.
So I guess my point is why are some deaths perceived as more “tragic” than others? What makes it more ok to talk about the death of a young woman from cancer but nobody wants to mention the young man who committed suicide? Is there a kind of survival of the mentally fittest attitude at play causing us to de-empathise with the suicide victim? Do we glorify the physically ill patient who fought so bravely against the odds? Are we still ashamed of suicide?
Why is the murder of a young white English girl more horrific than that of thousands everyday in honour killings or as spoils of war? Why are we not outraged by it all? I wonder, if in our reticience to avoid discussing suicide, to actively avoid naming it everything but suicide, have we somehow made it a mystique? The media steered well clear of depression, self harm and suicide for generations and now all of a sudden, it’s everywhere. Are we feeding a beast with each Five K we sign up for, every bake sale we send treats to, every celebrity’s “coming out” as depressed video or tweet we share? There’s a fine line between responsible reporting and glorification – you just have to look at a random collection of war movies to prove that – and I’m afraid we’re going too far. Being depressed, selfharming, actively craving death and planning for it is not glamorous. It’s not a trend. It’s not something to aspire to. I’m sure most famous sufferers of depression would agree with this, their aim is to say “Look, I’m not immune to it either, nobody is”; it’s how their admission becomes a bandwagon that’s worrying. Everyone loves jumping on the bandwagon, I reckon there are people who think I have done it. They haven’t known me for twenty years. Those girls who were abducted by Boko Haram last year: #bringbackourgirls was everywhere. And now? Well KK’s arse and her awful bleach job are still working on breaking the Internet. I don’t want young people to give up their lives to a trend that next year will be remembered only in our Facebook shares.
We should be greedy for life, not for Instagram likes.
On a little side note, it’s twenty years today since my grandad died and we all still miss him dearly. He was a true gentleman and we all hope to learn from his life.
I feel like I’m slipping a bit today and yesterday after a couple of mentally really good weeks despite the chest infection. I have zero motivation and I want to sleep, not eat, not talk. So if you have any inspiration sun shine breaking through clouds pictures, do send them on. No really, don’t. They won’t help.