depressed-girlModern society always seems to be overrun with the latest fad, whether it be the hippest clothing style, the latest electronic gadget, or the jazziest band. Though usually innocuous, fads can also be dangerous. Being a high school student, I am alarmed by a trend that is becoming all too popular for all the wrong reasons among my peers. This new fad is overrunning high schools and even middle schools because it is seen as “cool” by American youth. This fad needs to be recognized for what it is, and it needs to come to an end.

This new fad is “phony” depression. Young adults, teens, and even children are taking routine feelings of sadness and hurt and inflating them to enormous proportions because the media is eating it up. Turn on the television to any talent competition, such as American Idol or America’s Got Talent, and many of the featured contestants have a “backstory” which includes depression or anxiety. The contestants may not even have the true talent needed to win the competition, but because of their “troubling past” they are seemingly helped into moving on to the next round of the competition. Why? Because it boosts the show’s ratings and popularity. When the youth of today see this, they then get the idea that normal feelings of sadness, if amplified, will reward them, and so the fad begins.

Now do not get me wrong: I understand fully and wholeheartedly that true clinical depression exists, and I intend to distinguish this from the kind of fabricated type of depression I mean. It seems to me that our media’s actions are thinning the line between what a medical diagnosis of depression and this contrived, emotional form. Teenagers will read about the symptoms of depression on a medical website and automatically assume that their sadness is depression. The symptoms of true depression last for weeks and are caused by more than just a bad day at school or home. Studies show that many cases are caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, while other studies show it as a side effect of different medications. While bullying can lead to sadness, and even depression, a formal diagnosis of depression is more complex and should be handled carefully.

In addition to the media, the internet also encourages the young to believe they are depressed. Young people of my generation use the internet to express their real or imaginary feelings, and to what purpose? Attention, plain and simple. They will use words like “I hate myself” or “I want to kill myself” to garner the attention of others. Those who see these posts flood to the children’s defense, giving them fuel for their fires, furthering them in their quest to gain attention. I am a big follower of social media sites such as Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram; when I see kids my age using these websites to spread their sadness, it makes me feel just as desolate. Kids will post a depressing quotation or a heart-rending backstory of how they were bullied in grade school, expecting to receive the same attention they see given to their peers on television shows.  When they are not rewarded like the people on the television competitions, they proceed to intensify and broadcast their alleged problems more and more on these websites. This behavior sets off a domino effect that only leads downhill. And then you have to wonder, are these stories true? Should we believe these kids are actually depressed? And where is the line between fiction and fact?

Conversely, many sufferers of true depression conceal their feelings and diagnoses, lest they too be seen as crying wolf. Recently, I had the chance to sit down with a dear friend of mine, who was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Disorder, as well as Bipolar II, at just age seventeen. I talked with her about the idea of phony depression as well as the symptoms that she felt. She agreed that depression is becoming a fad and that it is being glorified. She herself never told anyone about her diagnosis both because she did not want to be seen as another pretender and because she did not want the attention of being pitied:

 “I hated myself enough already, I couldn’t let everyone else know that too.”

It is not uncommon for true sufferers of depression to conceal their state of mind in this way. And it is this concealment that leads to neglect of the true victims of this mental disorder. Because our society focuses on the kids-who-cry-wolf, they ignore the human beings that are actually fighting real depression. This leads to worse outcomes, such as suicide. Studies show that 15% of those who are clinically depressed die by suicide.

It is time that the new trend of “phony depression” comes to an end once and for all, so that we as a human race can help those who are truly in desperate need of comfort and clinical treatment. If you know of anyone who seems to be struggling silently with true depression, I urge you to listen to them and never put them down. Let their family know of your concern and perhaps refer them to the appropriate medical authority. Remember to be patient, no matter how difficult it gets, because at any time, you could be that one person’s saving grace.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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8 replies to this post
  1. As a senior in high school myself, I am all too familiar with this spreading phenomenon of teens yearning for attention by making their alleged “depression” become public. However, this article reminded me that there are in fact clinically depressed people that must not be dismissed but rather must be comforted. The task to determine whether someone is truly depressed or not is actually quite easy but requires time. The peer that has a bad day and rants on Twitter about how depressed he or she is is definitely an attention seeker, but the peer who declines invitations to socialize repeatedly and is invariably reclusive is either merely an introvert, or has a problem that is much more serious.

  2. Keeley, I appreciate and applaud your concern for your fellow young people. Your statement that fad depression is wide-spread seems accurate–even the facial expressions we see on the bus and the train back you up–kids look awfully sad now. But your solution leaves something out. Non-clinical depression can’t be waved away in favor of giving attention to those ‘truly suffering’ this disability. Non-clinical depression is actually the more common type and is the anchor for the definition, in use for centuries long before therapy took over the term. Ordinary depression it is real, and it is a heavy burden.

    What is the solution to this ordinary sadness? We can’t ignore it–it’s there for a purpose, to move us to follow the recommendations of the Church–to change one’s life, to embrace Christ and the kind of life He gave us, the way of the cross. People who suffer this legitimate form of depression are lucky–their hearts aren’t dead to the reality of human life. We suffer, in life. It’s our way, our only way, to get to heaven. This suffering is often a consequence of our own sins–we earned our bad feelings, and the way to get rid of them is to stop sinning. To go to confession, to go to communion, to begin to pray regularly, to participate in the traditional mass with all our hearts, to practice the works of mercy. Other suffering is the result of original sin, or the sins of others right now–yes, the innocent do suffer along with Christ, the supremely innocent man who suffered willingly. So must we. (My pastor has pointed out that there aren’t so very many truly innocent people, when examined carefully.)

    So I am hoping, Keeley, that you turn your attention to those behaviors which most often cause depression among young people and help your peers convert their lives to Christ. The most typical sins are those against chastity, which are not being exposed thoroughly now in those classes and activities pointed at young people in our parishes, and also sins against one’s station in life, failures to study, to read worthwhile material, to prepare for marriage, to use our time to help others, especially our families, to become and stay healthy and strong. Conversion in these areas will bring a smile back to your friends’ dear faces, and keep one on your own. Ignoring sin and exhorting others to quit their complaining will simply drive the sadness inside, and at least some therapists say that’s where clinical depression and other extreme manifestations begins.

  3. Excellent article; very impressive prose for your age. If I may offer a constructive correction with the hope of making you a better writer.

    Heart-wrenching is grammatically incorrect. The phrase is often mixed up with the similar one, gut-wrenching, but should actually be heart-rending.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful essay. I teach high school. I’ve been disturbed in the past five years at how insular and narrow students have become. Quite often they exist in a fantasy world of whatever screen they happen to use. As a result they don’t have the same social filters and hostility is far more common than it was when I began this job 18 years ago. Just as many adults will rush to WebMD to self-diagnose, many teens (and their parents) will commit the worst sin in medical diagnosis-to see zebras when they hear hoofbeats. As a result we have an overmedicated population of teenagers who are already wallowing in a pond of new hormones, being chemically controlled by doctors and self-medicating with everything from Dad’s best Scotch to synthetic heroin in order to feel perfect. And that misconception is the root of the cause. We to look back on high school yearbooks and laugh at the archaic styles, knowing we were not perfect then nor are we now. Yet today’s kids are pushed by social media, parents, peers to become whatever current definitions of “perfect” are accepted. I’ve seen parents spend way too much money on camps, surgery, medicine, training in order to create this iconic perfect teen. Nobody can live under that pressure. So in order to get some sort of break, kids will claim depression or anxiety or any of a host of ailments to get more test time or other concessions. In short, we are not urging kids to overcome their challenges, instead we are allowing them to think mere mediocrity is enough. No wonder the Chinese and Russian kids are achieving more.

  5. Until American society began falling for fake behavior some years ago, it would likely have been possible to separate the fakers from the despondent. When, some years ago, George W. S. Trow titled a book Within the Context of No Context, he was explaining what we, and especially young people, were confronting daily. Trow later emphasized his point by committing suicide.

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