Thursday, July 13, 2006

Cycle of Depression

The other day an Estonian friend – that’s right, an Estonian friend here on Tiree – told me something I think already knew.

“So many people here in this country are suffering from depression. Why is this? So many taking pills. Back home no-one takes medicine for depression, no-one gets depressed.”

While this is probably a bit of a generalisation on her part I think I know the pont she is trying to make. When we in this country re so comparatively well off, what can anyone be depressed about?

(As I am writing this I am listening to Radio 1. A young person has just texted to say how depressed and suicidal they’ve been recently. Weird, eh?)

Look around you, look at the international news: wars, famine, plague, murder and mayhem, all of this so widespread throughtout the world. And here I am in my cosy wee room writing my blog before going to work and the biggest hassle so far today has been that I wish I’d bought some bottled war last night in the co-op as I prefer it in my coffee.

I used to hear my granparents saying that when they were young no-one had the luxury of being depressed. Back then, in their young day, they had to work very hard for what would seem like a pittance by today’s standards. In their way of looking at things life was tough for everyone and ‘you just had to get on with it’.

Of course, psychiatric illnesses existed then just as they do now. In a previous life I was a staff nurse in the largest psychiatric hospital in Scotland. I helped looked after patients who had been in hospital since the 1920’s. People who had been in care for such an extraordinary length time tended to suffer from serious psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia or what we now term bi-polar affective disorder.

I know loads of people who have suffered or who are currently suffering from some form of clinically diagnosed depression. Some of them are my friends.

My friend was genuinely baffled as to why depression appeared – to her at any rate – to be rampant in this country. What was it that was so different about Estonia and Scotland?

“The obvious difference,” I said, “was that Estonia is not enjoying prosperity. By comparison people in this country must seem quite well off.”

It’s just convenient to blame all this depression on the misplaced values of the western world but I bet this is at least a contributory factor.

“If only I had that widescreen television I would be really happy … if I make that promotion then perhaps I could get a flashier car … how about a conservatory? That’ll make the neighbours green with envy!”

Deep down each and every one of us knows that possessions cannot bring lasting happiness. Getting a new toy might make us happy for a time but it won’t be long before the novelty has worn off and we desire something different, something new, something ‘better’.

I write this on the same day I have ordered a new bicycle, a ‘road bike’ with drop handlebars, a triple chain-set, carbon forks … a snip at £405.00. Do I need this? The answer to that is probably ‘no’: I already own an off-road mountain bike and a hybrid urban bike. But do I ‘want’ this? The answer is a resounding yes. Why? Because it will make me happy … for a while. I convinced myself that I needed this bike to start putting in some training at speed, something which the other bikes are not built to do.

You can convince yourself of anything if you try hard enough.

So when you see me out on my new bike, whizzing about Tiree, feel content that I am a happy man and will be continue to be so ... for a little while, at least.

[People] become unhappy and vicious because their preoccupation with amassing possessions obliterates their loneliness. This is why production […] seems to be on such an endless upward spiral: every time we buy something we deepen our emotional deprivation and hence our need to buy something. - Philip Saltier

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