It’s no coincidence that our modern way of living is in correlation with the rise of mental illness symptoms. The improvement in technology and other inventions are not rising in tandem with our social advance. As a millennial, I have known several people my age who have suffered from a mental illness, and dozens who have experienced symptoms. It’s horrifying how some headlines show that teenagers today have similar anxiety levels to that of asylum patients back in the 1950’s. This shows how much we have improved in diagnosing people with a mental illness, but it is also a reflection of how our mental health has not improved.
I am no expert in this field, and I can only talk from experience and my own knowledge, but there are a few perceptions that I want to address about this topic.
Being depressed is not the same as having depression. Just because you feel sad, depressed, anxious, or lonely, does not immediately entitle you to say “I have depression”. I am someone who tries to be as specific with her language usage as possible, and there’s nothing more annoying than people throwing words that they think are interchangeable around. It’s completely misleading for two reasons: 1) You are convincing yourself to be in a worse state than you are, which in turn could make you feel worse, and 2) You are letting others believe that mental illness is more widespread than it already is.
As advanced as neurology is, I don’t fully trust medical diagnosis of mental illness simply because there is so much that we yet don’t know. Each of these illnesses also has a range or spectrum, and it always varies from individual. This causes problems, as we may often resort to the Internet and books to learn about these symptoms ourselves. I do believe that there are countries whose medical system is more advanced – in those cases, I have more faith in their diagnosis. But in a country like the one I’m living now, I’m as wary as ever. I mention this because a diagnosis with a mental illness does not immediately mean you have such and such conditions. It’s not so black and white.
Mental illness is glamorized all over social media. I’m more aware of the occurrences of the Western World, so this mainly applies to the ‘big’ Western countries (e.g. the US). There are so many social media stars on YouTube, Instagram, and whatnot, and many of them get really personal on social media. And many of these also share things like having depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. To be honest, I feel that this act is double-sided.
On the one hand, by showing your vulnerability, you’re letting your followers and other people know that you’re a human being with feelings. On the other hand, it’s a weakness that becomes so “common” that people start to question whether they are mentally ill or not. I have seen in Tumblr, in particular, this glamorization of mental illness. People feel the need to label everything that they have – which may be professionally or personally diagnosed.
Though no one wants to be mentally ill, feeling like you have ADHD or anxiety is like an excuse to not do what you don’t want to do. I have also seen this happen in my own school, and it’s… not good.
Mental illness should be addressed, not promoted. Western societies welcome the opinion of the individual. We’re in a time where every movement is raising its voice to be heard in society. This gives people the motivation to voice their differences and conditions – which is great. But there’s a thin line between addressing and promoting an issue like depression. By addressing the issue, we are acknowledging every individual that has experienced some form of depression in their lives. But by promoting it, we’re getting more people to believe they have depression, until they do.
I believe that in Eastern societies it’s not as spoken about, mainly because it’s a cultural thing that families don’t want to believe is that serious. Despite being Asian myself, I haven’t lived in Asia for a long time, so I won’t really go into this side of the story. But this leads me to my next issue:
It can be perceived very differently in different parts of the world. Most of what I have talked about is partly based on what I have read and seen online of Western cultures, and partly of what I have experienced here (Latin America). This has also prompted me to think about these conditions in other parts of the world, namely Europe.
“Switzerland Is One of the World’s Happiest Countries And One of Its “Suicide Capitals” – Smithsonian.com
Despite my overall negative tone towards how mental illness is portrayed in the Western society, there are benefits to ‘promoting’ depression. I believe that having more people talk about depression does help people cope with it, as it enables you to feel isolated and more able to relate to other people. Switzerland being one of the suicide capitals is due to several factors, as mentioned in the article quoted above: higher rate of car deaths, and assisted suicide or euthanasia – the latter which countries like the US is completely against (throwback to when I read and watched Me Before You!).
I also feel that Switzerland, by being the happiest nation, enables mentally ill people to not recover and ultimately commit suicide. Let’s say you are in a room by yourself. There are other people around you, all happily doing their own things – playing with their pets, talking to their loved ones, simply having a good time. You just lost your job, and you have no one to call to comfort you. Everyone in the room is having a good time… except for you. Even if you are just depressed, and aren’t diagnosed with depression, you will feel like you do. Because you are the only one who feels that way in the room. It’s a horrible feeling, and I can see that leading to worse outcomes.
I don’t really know much about Switzerland’s mental health system, and I am sure (I hope) it does all that it can to take care of these people, but you can’t change the reality outside. If every normal person around you is happy-go-lucky and you’re internally suffering inside, it’s unlikely that you’ll pull out of it without help. And most people find it hard to get help when they have depression, anxiety, or some other disorder that they may feel ‘shameful’ about.
However, if the conditions were changed and the people surrounding you complain about the stress that they have, and how anxious they get, it will probably help you feel more normal when you experience similar symptoms. As introverted as you may be, we are all social creatures, and we are all affected by our external environments. Just like the weather can lead you to be depressed (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the people surrounding you can also affect you similarly.
If you have any thoughts on this topic, or if you believe that I was wrong on any of the points I made, please comment below!