Depression and other basic human rights

During the economic crisis after 2007, the incidence of various mental health issues, such as depression, increased. So did the incidence of suicidal behaviour. The ongoing climate crisis also leads to various conditions that are being described as depression or anxiety. Suicidal behaviour, too. Burnout, once a niche occupational hazard in caring and communication-heavy professions, has been recently described to have become a generational characteristic (of the Millennials).

Depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, even burnout have some aspects in common. Often, in a tempting simplification, they are understood as forms of incapacity to cope with rather normal and natural situations, and even when the situations are unfortunate and adversary, most people still cope with them. In those who don’t, this indicates some extra problem on the part of the sufferers. A problem which calls for an efficient intervention into their lives, often, presumably, an intervention of a medical nature - as, presumably, the core of the problem has to do with the neurochemical disequilibrium in the person's brain. The failure to acknowledge that I have this kind of a (medical) problem (that it is me who has the problem) and to do something about it (about myself, my health), and perhaps to seek help, in itself reflects badly on me.

“You lost your job? Well, many people did, and they are not suicidal.”

“You hate your job and think it is sucking the life out of you? Well, many people have challenging job situations, and they do not brood and rather try mindfulness.” (Doesn’t the world need more mindlessness instead?)

“You think the planet is fucked? It is not healthy to succumb to dark feelings; rather enjoy the beauty and meaning that there still is in the world.”

Only very recently, with the rising awareness of the generational or historically specific pattern of the occurrence of these conditions, we have slowly started learning to appreciate them as more than simply pathologies of our minds. They are also forms of understanding what is going on around ourselves. Sometimes hasty; sometimes quite lucid. The planet is in a bad shape, the job and housing prospects of young people are bleak, life is for many people almost insufferable – and this is not just something in their heads or produced by their own fault. The world is depressing.

A journal called Burnout Research got burnout after only 7 volumes, in 2018. I do not know the causes of its discontinuation, but I doubt that burnout stopped being a topical issue around 2018. Perhaps it was an attempt to send a message about what the world is like, as the publisher - who knows? - may have refused to continue to publish the journal under the name Living in the World Research. OK, now I am kidding. (Am I?)

If the world is depressing, it does not mean that you have to be depressed. You are better off if you manage to get rid of your depression. But you, legitimately, can get depressed by the depressing world; and those who exhort you to pull yourself together have only a thin case against you. You do not owe it to them, or yourself. You are neither succumbing to an illness nor refusing to cure an illness. You may be just exercising your right to recognise the world as it is.

Ondřej Beran