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Depression, Mental Health And Our Problems With Society – Where Are We Going Wrong? (Full Series)

By Joseph Coughlan, Legends Report Writer

Not too long ago, I received a string of video clips from multiple viewpoints. These videos contained footage of a person completely naked in the middle of the street in an area local to me, running around cars within traffic, standing in front of buses and acting all around irrationally. It became apparent rather soon that many people I knew had also ended up seeing these clips, with varying responses. 

However, there was only one response I got that stayed with me, which then made me look upon every other response and question them. One response that to me felt like the correct one. I shared the video with someone close to me, who immediately mentioned that they felt upset watching it, as that could be somebody experiencing a huge mental breakdown. 

While I didn’t find the video amusing like some seem to have found it, it didn’t make me think and feel so deeply about it as I do now until I heard those words. The video clips to me then became a criticism of not just those around, but perhaps society as it is today. Through the many different angles – many different phone cameras filming, it seemed to me that the incident meant more to people as a means of entertainment, or as a means to gain phantom respect points on social media, rather than view it for what it potentially is – someone in desperate need. 

For the above situation, one could very well attempt to say that it isn’t a mental health scenario and that the person involved was under the influence of alcohol and drugs. While this argument could hold weight, the reaction to it did leave a gaping hole in the perception over the seriousness of mental health and mental illness, and how despite all the progression of highlighting this issue in the previous decades, we may not be grasping this as well as we think we are. 

The topic of mental health and its importance to us all has been rightfully identified as an area we need to be monitoring, addressing and looking out for in others and ourselves, however there is still so much more that needs to be addressed and understood from everybody regarding it and how they can help. 

With the increase of mental health-related diagnoses, attention in media and regular talk amongst individuals seems to have arisen some responses to the question that this topic and the related issue itself has only arisen within the last few years or so, where this couldn’t have been any further from the truth. 

Along with this, mental health issues and illnesses seem to carry a crippling weight of stigma with them to this day, despite the increase of acceptance and awareness from previous times. 

A Historic Case of Similarities

It would be easy to assume like many have done in several different aspects of mental health-related subjects that an area such as depression would only be something that was known in its current form in the last several hundred years perhaps. In fact, that would be way off the mark. In their article for the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Edward H. Reynolds and James V. Kinnier Wilson wrote about evidence of depression and anxiety during (as far back as) the Babylonian era:

Although the Babylonians had no understanding of brain or psychological function, they were remarkably observant describers of many medical disorders and behaviours which we see today and for which they had their own interpretations and treatments."

While in the translated texts they observe and analyse within this article they do not seem to outright diagnose individuals with depression (as they do not seem to have a name for it yet), their symptoms leave a trail to assume that a modern psychiatrist will recognise obvious similarities. 

Unfortunately, due to limited knowledge of the subject at the time and a closer affiliation to religion, it became known as a disease that affected the spirit and thus labelled as “a demonic possession” that was dealt with by priests rather than anyone associated with a medical profession. This belief seemed to be spread out amongst all well recorded period histories of the time that included practices to drive “the demon” out, which included physical detriment and harm to the sufferer. 

It wasn’t until almost a millennium later in which some Roman and Greek doctors of the time believed that depression was a biological and psychological illness, and instead of the now understandably ridiculous notion of beating it out of people, used methods that may seem familiar in some forms of advice in the modern era, such as dieting, bathing or listening to music. 

The belief then moved closer to a medical issue – an imbalance of body fluids labelled at the time as the four humours; blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. The idea was that there was too much black bile in the spleen that then led to depression, which at the time of these impressions was now called melancholia. Melancholia or the feeling of melancholy is defined nowadays as “a feeling of pensive sadness, with no obvious cause.” 

Others also believed that the causes stemmed from the brain. These findings did not dispel the demonic connection and harmful barbaric response that loomed over any person that suffered with this condition however. 

With the many eras that followed this one, religious beliefs (maybe even misbeliefs) dominated and thus attributed sufferers of melancholia with connections to satanism and witchcraft, and previous centuries of beatings and harsh torture eventually led to socially accepted murder including burning those accused to be witches at the stake. 

While doctors continued to study the condition looking for causes outside of the supernatural, these horrendous practises continued until the 1700s. Moving forward from this due to concerns over growing beliefs of an unfair and unjust legal system that these disgusting acts were allowed by, all across Europe and other parts of the globe began to move away from these barbaric actions. Even this didn’t stop a negative reaction to mental illness, as, throughout the 1700s and 1800s, the belief was still carried throughout these centuries that anyone suffering in these respects was less of an individual than others, often being branded as “weak” and was something that was inherited, like a personality trait or a physical illness. It is also interesting to note the advice given at the time in contrast to this and how we also may have heard similar phrases in recent times: 

“Treatments such as exercise, diet, music and drugs were now advocated and doctors suggested that it was important to talk about your problems with your friends or a doctor.”

Throughout the 1900s, starting with renowned neurologist Sigmund Freud, the advancement of the understanding of psychology, those suffering from depression took major strides in theories surrounding the condition and plausible breakthroughs and understandings became known to the public throughout the decades through the work of Mr Freud; (biological factors, that some cases can be linked to loss or rejection of one or both parents but not limited to as such, this could be substituted with an unachieved goal from the individual for example), cognitive theorist Aaron Beck (negative automatic thinking, misinterpretations of information and events and negative self-beliefs led to depressive symptoms) and psychologist Martin Seligman (the “learned helplessness” theory – a lack of control leaves people feeling helpless and give up on attempting to change their situation as nothing will make a difference). 

After the events of World War II concluded in 1945, psychologists put mental diseases and psychological issues to the top of their concerns and their treatment/prevention of them. This also gave birth to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which is used effectively to this day, as well as the uses of medication that began with Isoniazid, originally purposed for combating tuberculosis which seemed to work effectively with treating depression in some people. This paved the way for the creation of one of the first drugs developed to treat depression: Tofranil (imipramine) which started a train of medications in its wake called TCAs (Tricyclic Antidepressants), and in the decades that followed including Prozac (Fluoxetine), Cipralex (Escitalopram), Faverin (Fluvoxamine) amongst others. 

From this point, depression did take a serious turn and became a more relevant topic, especially as decades went by, with other conditions being brought to the attention of society such as when soldiers returning from the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s were being diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for example, and the evolving world (invention of television, the radio, growth and change in the arts) led to the word being spread quicker and further. 

Through this relatively brief historical journey of depression to this point, we have seen the condition grow way out of being a demonic possession or a build-up of “black bile” in the spleen, but the characteristics, traits and understanding at least in the behavioural and psychological ways have always been noted and recognised. We may even say that depression has been with us since at least as far back as history began to be recorded, however, it seems we are still fighting for society to understand it to this day. 

Going back to the example used at the beginning of this article – yes, we have moved on from torturing and killing people suffering from mental illnesses. It’s just now we seem to have moved into lacking all care for them entirely. 

A Modern Solution?

Mental Health Matters

So, what can we do? To help and to be helped?

With the increase of mental health admissions and rising suicide rates, many mental health charities and government-funded organisations tackling these issues have been founded over the years. Talking with someone who volunteers for such a charity gave me an insight into how a charitable organisation of this kind offers help to those in need. Speaking on behalf of this charity, they explain the recruitment process, what they offer for those in need and from their experiences, what may and may not be working for understanding, treating and creating better awareness for mental health as a whole.

To be able to volunteer for a charity such as this one, there is a detailed and lengthy recruitment process to decide if you are the sort of individual they are looking for. In a place of business that deals with clients over the phone and face to face there may be a set script to follow to interact with them, however, this charity doesn’t follow anything of the kind and uses the recruitment process to put potential volunteers in differing scenarios and role-play (with feedback given) that they may find themselves in when speaking to someone suffering or experiencing anything affecting them mentally, especially in their case helping those that feel suicidal.

However, as a note, they do make a point that they are not therapists and do not offer significant medical advice – they are there as a safe haven, a listening ear for those with seemingly nowhere to turn to. They do not necessarily have to talk about the problems they are enduring, it can be about anything (although they do encourage discussion regarding suicide including suicidal feelings and difficult topics). The volunteer in question did note the bond that is struck between visitors and volunteers. A human connection between the two that is shared may give a bit of hope to someone in need that they might not have been capable of believing before someone offered them an ear to listen to.

The sessions are usually limited to 50 minutes due to the number of visitors on a given day, with sessions available face to face or over the phone. With an average of 200 visitors per month, in the 5 years they have been around, they have managed to speak to 11,000 different individuals.

A situation as simple as a confidential conversation (confined to anonymity) that regularly ends with the visitor’s leaving words as “see you in a couple of weeks” leaves both people just that bit more hopeful for the future.

With their close connection to the topic of mental health, we also discussed where we as a society currently are in regards to response and awareness. What instantly became apparent was the influence and power of social media. It would be very easy to criticize different platforms for the current state they are in, however, we must take a step back and realise that these platforms are entirely made up of actual people interacting with one another, and our actions can have serious consequences.

A point to make especially to those with frequent users and those with an affinity towards the different social media platforms is how they seem to have evolved to all carry “a type” of construct that an average user would conform to.

For example, Twitter seems to carry a weight of being a place where drama is consistently churned no matter where the origin, and seems to be a place where a lot of users seem to be hostile and argumentative at any given moment; TikTok seems to be going down the route of constant “one-up-manship”, where humour is slowly stemming into dark corners, and Instagram on the contrary but still just as damaging – would be fake positive, along with images that are only worth something if they are deemed “perfect”.

Celebrities are also looked up to in this manner where they have a carefully edited perception of who they are and what their life is like, and this becomes the only idea an average individual has of this life. Since this gains the most attention and most praise, others may look upon this as something they wish to strive towards. And ultimately, the vast majority of people will fail, not necessarily because of a lack of effort, but because the idea of this life is only what is perceived. This brings us back to Freud’s idea that some sufferers of depression feel that way because of a goal that is left out of reach, or just simply that it can leave the person feeling as if their life is inadequate in comparison.

Leading from this, the subject of mental health becoming “fashionable” was also a major concern, with the term seemingly being thrown around for many to use who may not understand the severity of such a thing nowadays. It has become so talked about without the proper context that naturally as consumers we take the information as a means of fitting in and conforming. The volunteer had this to say:

A situation I’ve found more common is that a group of friends as young as those in the early years of secondary school would all talk about their own mental health issues, where one in the group would say they would feel left out as they didn’t seem to think they had any. Contrast that to the years previously where it was usually the opposite for someone to be afraid to speak out about their issues.

Taking this example and using it for conforming in society, would this eventually lead to people claiming to have mental health issues just so it feels like they aren’t left out?

The problems aren’t just from the modern era either. The stigma that was documented in the previous part of this series still plays its part in the problems of the current day. Stereotypes such as a male needing to be the strong person in a group, or at least not to show any sensitivity plays its part too;

Girls even at a young age would sit together and talk about their feelings, in themselves, in things, in others. Boys don’t seem to have the same outlet.

While they do state their own charitable organisation speaks to roughly a 50/50 split of male and female referrals (others in the organisation have stated from their own individual experience that it’s more women, however, these are from their own respective experiences), the example above could be a telling factor in at least a good part of where an issue could lie. Just this one problem could link to the data submitted by the Statista Research Department for suicide rates in the United Kingdom in 2019, posted in March of this year.

In 2019, the rate of suicides among males was 16.9 per 100,000 population and among females, it was 5.3 per 100,000.

Suicide continues to be the number 1 cause of death for males under the age of 40 in the UK.

Figures analysed by The Independent in 2020 also show a huge increase in young female suicide rates since the early 2010s.

The number of women and girls between the ages of 10 and 24 recorded as having taken their own lives has increased by 94 per cent since 2012”

2012 also marked the first time that Facebook attracted 1 billion active users worldwide, moving from 100 million to 1 billion in just four years.

Practically going forward the volunteer had this to say:

I 100% believe there needs to be mandatory lessons in schools much in the same manner as something like sex education is taken seriously. With rising cases of depression and mental health-related issues in younger people now, they need to know about it and what can be done about it and where they can turn to. For this to be taken actually seriously, it needs to be known all over.

We both came to the conclusion that while words alone seem to be common ground for a good amount of people in the respect of watching what we post on social media and how we even interact with each other in general - actual belief and understanding of the sensitive nature of the situation is absolutely vital. And for those who feel like they have nowhere to turn or nobody to speak to, charitable organisations do exist, and their help can go a long way.

 

The Difference Therapy Can Make

You are important

While the insight of somebody who gives their all to the belief of offering help to those who require someone to listen to them is important, it is as equally, if not more so to know how it is for somebody who seeks help.

I spoke to somebody who has been in and out of therapy for nearly 10 years, who has been through several different options available and spoke openly about their experiences with them. The person in question originally started therapy at a young age on the advice of those close to them. It didn’t become apparent to them until a little later down the line that it is actually what they required for themselves personally. Speaking on their experiences with what they are most familiar with, this being government-funded therapies linked directly to the NHS:

From my experience throughout the years, the effectiveness of these kinds of organisations are questionable at best. From my personal experience, I have not seen a significant improvement in myself through them. Their structure from when I first went nearly 10 years ago until now has not changed at all.

It seems to be catered more for those with depression in the short term rather than the long term, and it’s sad to see that for a lot of those who need help turn to these government-funded groups for that help to then be put on a waiting list, then what feels like a rushed through therapy cycle that you’re only allowed an allotted time of several weeks before you’re sent back out again. This could work for those who have a depressed mood (short term), but for those who suffer with depression as a disorder (long term), several weeks of this therapy isn’t going to help undo or even ease many years of pain. It does seem that these places steer clear of attempting to really help those in desperate need and just seem to want to get through each referral as they come.

This is no means a way of putting the finger on the therapists and those who work within these kinds of places or those who do find help in the short term, but it really does show that they do require much more funding and resources to operate more efficiently and more effectively, as well as a constant look at their plans of action to alternate and try different methods, even the process as picking up the phone to call them and book an appointment – those with anxiety could be scared to even pick up a phone, and there is no alternate to this, not even email for example and this one basic overlooked example shows that there are flaws and some lack of care to it. Their one recycled therapy method will not necessarily work on every person – depression and mental health is extremely complicated and comes in so many different forms.

They also went on to detail their experiences with private therapy sessions outside of the NHS. While the experience wasn’t within the timed window structure of the previous organisations, it was more tailored to them personally. However, the feeling they were left with did not give them any more hope. The sessions were obviously pricey, and any effort made to space the sessions out for a more affordable venture was met with a dismissive attitude by the therapist in this case

Each session I was being told or being diagnosed with something else. It left me at times feeling like I really wasn’t in a good place or that I wasn’t quite sure to believe the things I was hearing. I felt more like a customer, more than a client.

They did admit and stress that this was their only period with a private therapist, but it did leave a sour taste in their mouth that those in the middle and lower classes could only turn to government-funded NHS organisations, which seemingly didn’t have the backing, but even those who could afford private sessions were being treated for their monetary income rather than their want for help. This is one of the reasons why we at the Legends Report offered tailored mentoring, coaching and counselling in an accessible way to people.

The one place that they remembered having a decent impact on themselves was in fact, a charitable one.

There was a time when I felt so out of control, that I really felt like if I was left alone, I really didn’t know what I could be capable of. I found my way to a charitable suicide prevention group, and I didn’t know what really to expect, especially from my past experiences. But this method seemed to help somewhat. It didn’t cure me of anything, no, but I was put in a much better place than when I first went in there. I think it really comes down to those that listened to me when nobody else would, pardon the language but they really seemed to give a sh*t. I think that’s what matters. Not that they say they do, but because they actually do”.

We discussed similar topics in society previously mentioned with the volunteer, including the influence of individuals on social media platforms, echoing the “fashionable” side of these topics and what could be done going forward.

 “Those on social media really do need to understand what effect they can have on others. And like I mentioned, “actually” caring about others and their situations is perhaps key in this. On social media, many people seem to falsely support mental health help related issues only as a means for ‘likes’ and attention, this is “performative activism” and not actual activism like they may so believe. There are even extreme cases now where people are “chronically online”, meaning that their social media life is their entire existence, and this can also play huge factors into the mental health of those who fall into this trap.

Going forward, they agreed with what the volunteer argued earlier in the article in regards to mandatory lessons being used in schools as a means of helping those in need from an early age.

It has to be taught and taught properly to those in school. Especially nowadays with kids growing up with social media as part of their lives from an extremely young age, the wrong information and incorrect perceptions and negativity surrounding it can affect them as their mind grows. If the correct education is in place, we may be able to do something to help those in need early.

 Hope For Healing

Depression is now ten times as prevalent as it was in 1960, and it strikes at a much younger age. The mean age of a person’s first episode of depression forty years ago was 29.5, while today it is 14.5 years”.
- Martin Seligman (psychologist & author)

With the many different topics discussed in this series from more than one source, we can safely come to the conclusion that while great steps have been made in the progress to understand and combat depression and mental illness, we still have so much work to do. I do. You do. We all do.

Genuine proactive care for each other is required in all walks of life, and if we understand each other, we may be able to understand this topic. While questions arise over what is still the most effective method for those suffering, there are options available. If more of us continued to raise awareness, perhaps more could be done for people. The NHS also is affiliated with non-profit charitable organisations, which are there for you if you are in need of getting thoughts out of your head and feelings off of your chest. Private therapy is available too and while it can be expensive, some do offer reduced rates depending on income. If you would value talking to one of our counsellors here at the Legends Report to see what we can do for you, we are always here to help.

I would like to end this article with the key theme of World Mental Health Day to take away with you: Hope. Hope is what drives us to be better. Hope is what pushes us to make the world better for ourselves, our families and each other. Hope is what wrote this article in dedication to those in need, those fighting for those in need and those who couldn’t be with us today.

I have mentioned in a previous article how vital it is to care for ourselves and one another, and by that I mean to truly believe in and look out for each other. Everything in this article also comes down to care, and it's something the world as a whole needs more of. We can start by caring for those

The Legends Report has counsellors and mentors who wish to tackle any issues you may be feeling and to help everyone and anyone in need of a listening ear.

We do care.

With special thanks to those who gave their stories and insight to this series. It wouldn’t have happened without you. 

The topic of suicide was briefly touched upon several times in this series, to read more about it, please read this article by my fellow writer Hannah Smith..

If you or anyone you know would value any support with mental health or speaking to a counsellor please contact us in the form below or on live chat. 

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