It’s that time of year, when the divide between the happy and the sad feels at it’s most marked. Whilst the intention of Christmas is to give of ourselves – through action (thoughtful gifts) and attitude (joy and understanding) – it can make us turn in on ourselves – exacerbating our worries and woes. For along with those unwanted turkey sandwiches, we might also get the unlooked for – a dish of our own shortcomings.
The numbers on depression are oft repeated back to us; 350 million people globally, one in ten at any one time, 1 in 4 with a mental problem each year. Today the reported age for the onset of depression is 14 years old, compared to 45 in the 1960s. It’s been claimed we are on the brink of an epidemic. (Depression is expected to impose the second biggest health burden globally by 2020; greater even than heart disease, arthritis and many forms of cancer).
The reasons for this rise in despair are likely to be as complex as the people it affects.
Often though we think it’s something personal, something to do within ourselves; the constant feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fatigue and low energy, a loss of concentration and interest in activities, insomnia, even thoughts of death or suicide. There’s said to be a link between creativity and depression and many artists who suffer have examined their symptoms to produce emotionally charged work; from Picasso’s ‘blue period’ to Tracey Emin’s unmade bed, from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, to Joseph Conrad’s, The Heart of Darkness, (just a few of the many celebrated artists who have suffered depression.) Albert Camus once said, “In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”
But what about the role of big society? Could this be a more likely cause of the coming “epidemic”? Where the world outside our homes makes us feel helpless or hopeless. Our governmental institutions misunderstood and uncared for. Our workplaces, where we labour slavishly, at best frustrating and at worst exploited. Interactions with those around us unsatisfying or threatening. Look around, do you see the passive, bored, fearful, or isolated? If so, then this year of political upset and uncertainty, could produce a spur of depression – for when we lack hope, energy and friendship, we routinely rebel “without consciousness of rebellion” now more commonly called mental illness. But is life really harder now, than say 50 years ago? Only when wearing rose-tinted glasses perhaps (today we are richer, healthier, live longer and are more accepting of each other…)
The most depressed country is Afghanistan, where more than one in five people suffer from the disorder. The least depressed is Japan, with a diagnosed rate of less than 2.5 percent.
The stats are grim but there could be other factors fuelling the rise in sufferer numbers, like awareness and acceptability. The famous, like Stephen Fry, who revealed his suffering in 2006, have helped enormously to dissipate the stigma and so more of us are getting diagnosed. Now there are many celebrities who have spoken out, all ages, all types – from YouTuber Zoella to most recently, TV presenter, Carol Vorderman on I’m A Celebrity. And it a subject examined in many other popular programmes, like the TV soaps.
Indeed EastEnders, never afraid to show the harder, darker side of life, especially at Christmas will be shining a spotlight on depression this year. Lee Carter (Danny-Boy Hatchard) will be seen buckling under the pressure of spiralling debts and depression, his wife Whitney, oblivious to his suffering. “His depression is going to escalate, and it’s a hard-hitting thing for people to watch.”I’ve had people writing to me saying that the storyline has been unbearable because it’s like watching themselves. But that means we’re doing our jobs properly.”
So not a cheery prospect for soap fans but maybe the writers of EastEnders are right and we should all tune in. Because it’s in our creative work; fiction and nonfiction – where we can share the pain of mental illnesses and disorders. Christmas-time might force us to look at ourselves and the state we’re in.But that’s not necessarily wrong. Searching can lead to finding, to interventions and to change. Christmas might just help you find yourself.
Read: Authors give us informative, engaging and rewarding reads
Ordinary People, 1980- Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore. Dir. Robert Redford.
Siver Linings Playbook, 2012 – Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence. Dir. David O. Russell
Melancholia, 2011 – Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsburg. Dir. Lars Von Trier
Wrist Cutters – a love story, 2006. A story set in a strange afterlife way station that has been reserved for people who have committed suicide
Girl Interrupted, 1999 – Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder. Dir. James Mangold. The stories of serious mental illnesses are told through hosptialised girls,
The Virgin Suicides, 2009 – James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett. Dir. Sofia Coppola. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides.
The Fisher King – 1991 – Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges. Dir. Terry Gilliam
The Mental Illness Happy Hour: a weekly online podcast featuring comedians, artists, friends, and the occasional doctor. Each episode explores mental illness, trauma, addiction and negative thinking.
11 Great Ted Talks About Depression
To know more about the psychology of depression, take the course – http://www.psychologysalon.com/2015/01/why-is-depression-incidence-increasing.html