Who Does Depression Affect?
The tragic death of Robin Williams brings home a pressing question to all of us: who does depression affect?
As many commentators have now pointed out, Williams’ suicide powerfully impacted a huge number of people. Due to his TV and film presence, very many people felt closely connected to this very engaging, unbelievably high energy and truly ingeniously funny man. That someone so loved by millions, so successful and so apparently in love with life as his public persona would suggest could take his own life has taken our manic-paced world and plunged us into an uncharacteristic state of deep reflection.
Depression Respects No One
Depression affects all age groups and types of people, and it might affect any one of us.
In fact, one important element of the upswell around Williams’ death may well be that it forces many people who normally would not do so, to confront the depressive person in themselves.
Each of us possesses the capacity for depression. Each of us knows that, while we may not suffer from chronic, on-going depression, we have suffered from various forms or degrees of what are called reactive depression — depression that comes about as the result of life events.
From a Jungian perspective, many experiences of depression may potentially open a way into the real meaning and value in my life. As James Hollis reminds us,
Everyone experiences depression from time to time.
In every case, one has to ask the fundamental question,
what is the meaning of my depression?
Depression and Late Midlife
We see suicide as a huge problem for the young, and so it is. Yet, statistics from the American Center for Disease Control show a growing suicide crisis for those in late midlife. Between 1999 and 2009, suicide rates have most dramatically increased in the 45 to 54 age group, and secondly, the 55 to 64 age group, especially among males.
Who does depression affect? Increasingly, this midlife group, men in particular, and sometimes so severely it leads to the tragedy of suicide. Individual cases greatly vary, yet, often loss of key relationships, health or a long-held social identity, such as a work role, are key factors. The persona, or socially constructed self, that may have provided a meaningful identity in earlier life now no longer fits. The individual is thrown back on the key questions of who they most fundamentally are, and what in life is fundamentally meaningful.
Yet, Issues Around Depression Aren’t New
Four thousand years ago, in a time of tremendous social upheaval and anxiety, an Egyptian wrote a book called The World-Weary Man and his Ba (an ancient Egyption word for “soul”). In that book, the narrator recounts his weariness of life, and his desire to commit suicide, and to travel to the afterlife. Yet, his inmost self rebels, basically telling the man that he has no understanding of the importance of the here and now, or he could not even think of squandering his life in this manner. The soul challenges the man to find his real identity, and his wholeness.
In our culture, we tend to flee from depression, yet almost all of us will have to face it in some form or other. Finding a personal, meaningful and sustaining answer to the questions it asks is right at the heart of the work of depth case studies.