It is probably safe to say we all know of, or have known someone suffering with depression; even if perhaps not as closely as a friend or family member but of those in the public eye. Most recently one of the most notable cases being Robin Williams, one of comedy and films’ most well loved characters. Williams’ suicide seems to have awakened amongst us a previously ‘brushed under the carpet’ realisation that when someone such as this, seemingly larger than life and on the surface so jovial, does something so desperate and final, we all see that depression does not choose, it doesn’t apply to specifics of lifestyle and it doesn’t discriminate; it’s clear that it can affect any one of us, like many illnesses.
Many people prefer to link depression to personal circumstance in order calculate their understanding of it and in situations such as Robin Williams, or indeed the young girl band member, Simone Battle who also took her own life very recently at the age of only 25 years old, people often ask, “What have they got to be depressed about, they’ve got money, good jobs, nice lifestyle, good looks…” when this shouldn’t be the question at all.
The negative stigma attached to depression seems to be far less damaging than it once was – the idea that people should never admit to being depressed, least of all go to a medical professional about it, is decreasing. Instead this train of thought seems to have been largely replaced, thankfully, with the realisation that although there is still a certain amount of judgement surrounding it, you can in fact, in the most part, treat it medically. This in itself serving as proof to those who feel as if they are constantly having to justify themselves that it is not simply something ‘in your head’ but a condition, and a dangerous one if not dealt with correctly. As with many illnesses once rare and therefore misunderstood it seems that depression, in its many forms, is going through a cultural transition phase. In modern society we are exploring it rather than avoiding it, no longer such a social taboo we are presenting it as something to work with, not run from. A great example of this is Clare Danes’ character in the award winning series, ‘Homeland’ – a highly successful, intelligent woman who has to learn to manage her illness as part of daily life. She has bi-polar, but it is portrayed as much in a beneficial light as a destructive one in that a number of the symptoms of her disorder in fact act as tools for her to succeed where her peers don’t have the depth of thought. Perhaps because we are dealing with it and managing it we are beginning to live life in a way that accepts it as an imperfection, rather than something terminal or ugly.
The good news, for anyone suffering with this illness, is that as a more commonly known and accepted medical issue, people are no longer forced to suffer in silence for fear of isolation and ostracism but can treat it as they would many an illness with no unnecessary cause for vulnerability – the worry however, on a larger scale, is that if depression is growing in terms of numbers and variation, should we be taking a closer look at why? Are we putting ourselves under an undue amount of pressure as a Western society to conform; does modern life now contribute to the generation of a far bigger risk of depression and mental strain?