Okay, so here’s the deal. I didn’t expect to be writing a post about depression at nearly 1am, but I’ve just spent some time looking through comments made on an interview with Chester before he died. For anyone who doesn’t know, Chester was the lead singer in the band Linkin park, and he recently committed suicide at the age of 41. He suffered through some childhood trauma which I suspect was the root of the problems which ultimately lead to his suicide. This post is not specifically about him, so please do read on.
There’s an awful lot of comments on said interview accusing Chester of being selfish for committing suicide. ‘He’s got so much money and a house and family…etc’
‘There’s people worse off, he’s a coward.’
‘Suicide is a western white privilege.’
‘Depression is for crybabies.’
First off, I want to say that none of us know the specific mental health disorder he was suffering from. This is the same for any suicide we read about in the papers and feel the right to comment on – the same for Robin Williams and many others. ‘Depression’ in the media is pretty much an umbrella term for mental health illnesses. There is more than one type of depression. Many of the people making the above comments claimed to have been through depression or loved someone with depression. If that depression was a product of circumstance, e.g. losing a job or loved one, then they may well have gotten over it within a matter of years. I can’t be sure, of course, but this is a common type of depression, and this is why the statistics say 3 out of 4 people suffer from depression at some point in their lives.
Secondly, if you go through trauma in your childhood, you usually miss out on learning basic coping mechanisms that other people have. This affects your entire life. This is a key stage for brain development and social learning. Adults generally suck at dealing with trauma in children and don’t know how to react. More often than not, the child goes through the trauma as a result of the adults around them not having the coping mechanisms in place, which is how things like physical or sexual abuse become a cycle.
Now, to explain why people in western society seem to suffer from mental health issues more than people living in poorer countries, who are facing things like starvation and disease, struggle with housing and jobs, etc.
Humans have ‘progressed’ further than our evolutionary state. We still have all our survival instincts, like the fight or flight response, and a hunter gatherer response. In western society, we no longer face the kinds of situations that should naturally provoke these responses. Up until a few hundred years ago, we still needed them, and evolution is a slow process controlled by natural selection. Our medicine and control of natural dangers is so far advanced that natural selection doesn’t take place anymore – babies that would have died young, people who would have died from diseases in their 30’s, and elderly who would have died below 60 – none of this happens. This means that even unfavorable genes that would do nothing to help us survive in a natural state, and would die off in a natural state, are staying with us.
Our ‘natural state’ is now modern society, but all our basic instincts have stayed with us because there’s no natural selection.
So, instead of reacting to actual life threatening situations, our brains have started reacting to mental situations we deem detrimental to us, e.g. a break up, or fear of a car crash, etc. Stress was originally important in allowing us to recognize potentially dangerous situations. Stress releases certain chemicals that triggers the fight or flight response, which ultimately causes adrenaline to be distributed around our bodies to prepare to the fight or flight. Since these days, we do not fight or flight, but still experience the physical preparation – beating heart, quicker breathing, sometimes sweaty palms, a slight tunnel vision affect – the adrenaline basically goes nowhere. This can accelerate our heart further, and basically it can all result in a panic attack.
It’s strongly suggested by scientists that the hunter gatherer instinct is responsible for excessive spending and greed, since we no longer need to hunt or gather.
Our brains then react to this situation. It is not natural to be overcome by a wave of despair for no physical reason, or to have a panic attack about a social gathering. We register that and begin to question if there is something wrong with us. That adds more pressure onto the situation. In the wild, if there’s something wrong with new born babies or older animals, they often die naturally, get eaten by the pack/mother or get left behind for predators. If our brain perceives us as having something wrong with us, it then perceives us as in danger, and the cycle repeats. We then start to feel excluded from society and cut off, but from the time we’re born, we’re taught that we need society. More danger. We look for coping mechanisms to deal with this constant cycle, to try and break it, and often end up with things like alcohol and drugs. Obviously, this then causes more problems by altering our reality further, by allowing us to damage people around us and push ourselves further and further from help until we really are cut off.
People in poorer countries still utilise these instincts, as ultimately, the instincts are there to ensure we have the best possibility of surviving. They have competition for resources, sometimes from animals, sometimes for other humans. They’re poorly paid, if at all, so still rely on hunting and gathering. Disease is still an issue for them. In the western countries, we don’t need these instincts.
That is why people in western civilisation suffer from depression and mental health issues more (that we know of) than people suffering in third world countries. They go through greater challenges day to day, they often suffer more and see more death than we do, and yet, our brains are the ones that appear to be shutting down.
An extra note about depression itself: Depression can last a few months, a few years, or a lifetime. Depression that is either caused by genetics, severe childhood trauma or both tends to be chronic and therefore inescapable, in the same way that people can’t heal from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You can manage it, but you’ll never live without it. It becomes part of your personality, it affects every bit of mental thinking you do and the way you express yourself to other people. The same goes for personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder. There are so, so many different mental health disorders that often people aren’t correctly diagnosed. This is why the media uses the umbrella term of ‘depression.’ Some people experience some kind of sexual abuse, go through depression and, with the right help and support, come out the other side. It doesn’t mean they’re not affected by what happened, but they can get over the depression. Some people can’t. Just like physical pain thresholds, people have different mental pain thresholds.
It is so important that people who have never suffered, or who have but still can’t understand the way others suffer more when it looks like they’ve had an easier life, understand all of this.
And for those of you who think suicide is for cowards, think on this. A friend or family member is in constant physical pain – really bad pain. They go through whole periods where they can’t get themselves out of bed because it hurts too much to move. They’re sobbing and groaning their day away. They can’t even get up for food. They took painkillers, but eventually the painkillers cause pain in another area (weird side affect, but imagine it). Sometimes the pain is less, and they’re able to function as a ‘normal’ human being, but a lot of the time it’s at a constant level. It’s like a 24/7 migraine which is sometimes just a headache. It is so, so tiring to be in pain all the time.
If they were going through that, daily, for 30+ years, would you think they were a coward to end their life? If everything they tried didn’t stop the pain, are they selfish for wanting to rest? Would you want to live like that?
I wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, and certainly not a loved one.
That is what many people go through. The only difference is it’s mental pain. It’s just as real. I’m not advocating suicide here, I know full well there are many coping mechanisms and lots of new information coming out about mental health all the time. There’s still a lot of misjudgment and wrong diagnoses, but it’s getting there. The more we learn, the more we can help.
I’m just saying that someone who can deal with being in that much pain for that amount of time before they decide to put themselves first and find peace is no coward.