Modern 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.