I have become frustrated with trying to engage people about my depression. Depression is a serious and dramatically emotional issue, but I think my point may have been lost in the seriousness and drama because of the emotion. I will accept the blame for this, but I am going to try again. Almost every response I have gotten to my attempts to discuss this issue, although each has been very kind and well intentioned, has boiled down to the exact same underlying assumption: that something is wrong with me that needs to be fixed. But, maybe something is not wrong with me. Maybe, instead, something is wrong with society. Maybe I ought to be angry. Maybe I ought to be grieving. My claim is that the problems in society are masked and hidden behind blaming and shaming individuals. Society tells us insistently and constantly “you don’t look right,” “you don’t smell right,” “you don’t think right,” “you are not normal,” and we have something to sell you to fix everything that is wrong with you. We have all internalized this blame and shame by internalizing that there is something wrong with us. This internalized blame and shame is reflected in sexism, racism and classism. This internalized blame tells us the problem is not society, it is the woman, the non-white person, the working class individual. We individually take this blame and turn it back onto ourselves. Keeping the individual in shame keeps the system of oppression going. This can be seen especially in sexism and racism, when women and non-white people become so ashamed of being who they are that they hate their own sex or race. Hating one’s own sex or race justifies the system of oppression as being based on desert.
My claim is that this is exactly how we have been ideological conditioned to treat people with depression. Society tells us that if you are depressed, it is your own fault because there is something wrong with you. We have something to sell you to make it better and if you don’t subscribe to it, it is your own fault, not the society’s. We are told depression is genetic, a hereditary chemical imbalance. To buy this wholesale is to buy into the essentialist claim that there is something wrong with the individual that needs to be fixed. Depression, like cancer, has not been proven to be entirely genetic. Studies have shown links between genes and 40% of cases of depression, with the other 60% being linked to environmental causes (http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/genetic). What does this say? First of all, correlation is not causation. But, second of all, even the most ardent advocates of a genetic connection admit more than half of the cases of depression they studied did not have a genetic link. Even the claim that depression is a chemical imbalance has been difficult to prove and there is no single contributing factor that can be pointed to as a source of depression (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml). The point is this, yeah, depression may run in some families, but so does dysfunction. A child that grows up subjected to child abuse and domestic violence is more than likely going to grow into an adult who has issues they need to work through. Not because the child or adult has anything essentially wrong with them, but because society failed to provide that child with an upbringing conducive to a healthy and stable life. Maybe depression runs in families because poverty, child abuse, domestic violence, inadequate education and a whole host of other societal problems run in families. We are shaped by our interactions with others, from the moment we are young. Even if, for the sake of argument, there is some sort of essential nature, this essential nature is not an island onto itself. Behavioral, operant, conditioning is a well-established psychological theory and this conditioning is done via society. We are all interconnected socially via family, friends, work, school and media. We are all interconnected through rampant consumerism, arrogant competitiveness, atomized individualism and egoism. We are all interconnected economically, culturally, and politically. This materialist, consumerist, self-interestedly driven society connects us all. It presents us with the external stimuli that connects and conditions us.
This is how we need to think about depression. Not as an individual problem with individual solutions where blame and shame is placed on the individual. We need to think of depression instead as a social problem with social origins and social solutions. When I speak of depression and I say I don’t want pity, I don’t want someone to save me, I don’t want attention, I explicitly and emphatically mean exactly what I say. My purpose in sharing what I share is because I want people to consider how their assumptions and actions perpetuate placing blame and shame on the individual. Thus, how their assumptions and actions perpetuate a society of oppression through conformity coerced through blame and shame. I will not conform. I should be angry. I should be grieving. Society is screwed up and needs to be fixed, not conformed to. I will not conform to the system of oppression that justifies and legitimizes itself through blame and shame.