By: Sara Ringenbach ~Staff Columnist~
The tired narrative of a patient, overcast with mood and no chance for sunshine today. Parked in a polyester chair, waiting for a summoning. Eyes looking ahead, but sight too preoccupied with scenery of the mind. A name is called, it is claimed. Walk through the threshold into a hallway decorated with doors on either side until steered into the correct room. Sit on the couch, the operating table of the psyche. A sterile silence.
“So, what brings you in today?” Doctor asks. “I’m not feeling like myself.” Patient speaks using voice within, but sounds far away, a voice decapitated from its body. “Tell me more.”
A grocery list of symptoms. Recited in monotony, a checklist. A sympathetic nod, a furrowing of the face, a trained response. Fifty minutes of emotional purging. Fifty minutes of practiced sympathy and understanding. Fifty minutes to diagnose a state that has taken weeks, months, years to brim. Can a human being be fixed in 50 minutes?
Leave with a piece of paper and an appointment for next week. A person with depression in African tribal communities is brought outside to sunlight, encouraged to dance and engage with the surrounding community. A person with depression in Western society is instructed to sit down in an enclosed, isolated room and told to relive to a complete stranger his psychological distress.
And then told to come back next week for Part Two. We are a depression-phobic people. The suffering individual is encouraged to seek help and incentivized to be rid of it as soon as possible. It is viewed as an inconvenience to society and production, seen as alarmingly out of vogue.
Accordingly, individual depression becomes a collective issue. It is our unspoken responsibility as upstanding citizens in a community to seek help in the face of depression, to eradicate it and return to optimal functionality in a timely manner.
Sympathy is a conditional social currency; a person must actively try to get better and seek professional help in order to reap the patience and understanding of others. However, patience does not have a long half-life. If the individual overstays his time in the “sick role,” it erodes the empathy of the community, despite legitimacy of the illness. Accordingly, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are sought out and dispensed at epidemic rates. “Adults in the U.S. consumed four times more antidepressants in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1990s,” according to Scientific American.
If depression is becoming increasingly infectious, why are we treating it as an abnormality to the human experience instead of a symptom of something larger that can unify? Psychotherapists assert that SSRIs alone are not sufficient to treat depression, but instead can serve as a tool to abate the more vicious symptoms during the exposition of talk therapy and to allow the patient to function day to day.
However, is “functional” an outward pretense or does it permeate to include one’s state of mind? Is our definition of “functional” to the benefit of the individual or to society? The use of SSRIs to numb the pain and symptoms of depression may only mask its upset. This urgent need to eradicate depression at the genesis its onset presents complications. Physical pain is a warning sign of that something is physiologically wrong. Psychological suffering is not easy to feel, but, as with physical symptoms, they can foretell a potentially greater, systematic problem.
Maybe it’s not just the weather, or that you’re not doing enough yoga or thinking enough positive thoughts. Maybe it’s a wakeup call to tell us something is wrong, something needs to change. Maybe it’s even bigger, a systematic byproduct of the social fabric we exist in.
However, this dialogue is not easy to have, and often takes place as a monologue inside our head. Our society places the fault of mental illness on the individual, and it is the individual’s responsibility to get better. It is the individual’s job to change. However, in this pervasive climate of social and scientific progress, why shouldn’t we aim to progress into a society that supports people who we are today instead of creating a society that is built for who we may be tomorrow?
Human evolution does not have an iOS upgrade every month. Has our society progressed past the point that allows us a chance to breathe, to grieve and to experience feelings without an expiration date? Has our scientific culture placed too much emphasis on the word “patient” and not enough on “patience?”