What is the nature of depression? Why are so many people these days depressed? First of all, there is situational depression and long-term depression. Situational depression can happen for a slew of reasons. Loss of a job, loss of friends, a traumatic event like a mugging, the fact that you like someone and they don’t like you back. I will be instead focusing on long-term clinical depression; the depression that you cannot merely shake off; that stays with you through thick and thin; no matter what. When the brief moments of good times don’t really compare to the massive black cloud always hovering over you.
In life, there is suffering; it is inevitable. Some people unfortunately experience more suffering than others. For most people though, all of life isn’t suffering; yet it may play a large role. One could say that Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha and reached enlightenment, a sheltered prince, became depressed and afflicted when he realized the inevitable suffering of life; sickness and disease, old age, and finally death. Unfortunately, though some may try, it is not enough to live life in such a way as to maximize the pleasures of life and seek to minimize suffering whenever possible. This is the basis of hedonism; the pursuit of sensual pleasures whenever possible being the highest goal. What comes up must go down; extreme appetites for pleasures may cause you to sink lower than you would have been. The Buddha himself instead preached the Middle Path or Middle Way; everything in moderation, including pleasures. Further, people with depression often experience anhedonia; the inability to feel pleasure or take pleasure in activities, rendering a hedonistic attitude useless.
Nietzsche has wrote extensively on suffering. He himself was deeply depressed. One of his best ideas, that may help a depressed person, is not to reject your suffering. “One must deal with it and endure”. This life is a test of our worth, and we are all, every single one of us, warriors; we must fight the battle that can be won. We grow in so many ways when we endure suffering; one must not simply turn away from suffering, but face it head-on. Yes, we were born to suffer and born to die, but we were also born to live. This life is a test of our strength and of our soul. It is not easy, certainly not easy, and very messy.
Then there is hopelessness. One may want to give up and throw in the towel in the face of life’s adversities. They may think, “Is this even worth it?”. Does attitude even matter when the whole of life has got you down? Tell a depressed person to just look on the bright side and make them laugh a little. Should we hold onto the hope of a better day that may never come? Is hope itself inherently flawed? Can depression be relieved simply by better circumstances? Should we all just give in, and give up? Wealth and power, fame and fortune, are simply not enough to alleviate deep depression, as there are many famous people who chose to commit suicide despite their affluence.
There is a term that is popping up more and more these days, and that is anti-natalism; whether or not it is even okay to bring a child in this world, knowing full well they will go through suffering at the hands of life. Is it morally objectionable? Is it better to just not have been? Are we contributing and exacerbating the problem by bringing children into the world? Should we just deal with what is already here? Should we choose to adopt a child that is already in this world, that may not have the best of life so far?
Suicide, the ultimate act; the final act. One of the most pertinent questions of philosophy is whether or not life is worth living. Camus says, “There is only one serious philosophical problem, and that is whether or not to commit suicide.” How desperate for escape one must be to commit suicide, how difficult is what they are going through to make the choice to take your own life; to just end it all and not look back. Many, many people surprisingly reach that point, they feel trapped in a corner by life with no way out; except one. Suicide rates are on the rise; increasing by near 30% since the late 90’s. Is there a way out that does not involve suicide? Is there something we must be doing, is it a problem that needs to be addressed and solved? Another important question is if we have the right to commit suicide? My answer would be yes, although certainly not ever advised. It is a personal choice, and although it may negatively affect everyone around you, you still have the right over your own life. We should all, collectively, be working toward making this world a better place, so that nobody gets to the point where they can’t stand living in it one more day. Long-term depression may be equally circumstantial and existential, but if we mitigate the circumstantial we may be able to come to terms with the existential a little bit better. A “happy reality” with no meaning is better than a “cold reality” with no meaning.
The idea and ideal of happiness. Many of us have the idea of happiness floating in our heads. Is happiness even attainable? What is happiness? Many people follow happiness like the carrot on the stick; always working toward that ideal but never quite arriving. To feel good about everything in your life is simply impossible. Kings are not even happy, yet they have everything. Should we collectively abandon that ideal and just be okay with how things are? To live fully in the present moment may rival “happiness”. Accepting yourself, accepting what life has thrown at you, one step at a time.
Depression is an affliction of the mind, a chemical imbalance, but is that all it is? Can it truly be cured by medication and proper therapy? Is there a source, an existential reason, for the chemical imbalance? I would say so; as the chemical imbalance is just a by-product of the true reason; it is the manifestation of higher reasons. It is up to the individual to investigate “meaning” and “purpose”, even if there is none. The pursuit of happiness and of the “good life” is an ongoing quest by many. For the depressed individual this may seem trivial; a waste of time. I would instead advise the pursuit of “being at peace” with ones circumstance; even if partly negative. This involves mental toughness, and mastering of both thoughts and emotions, in order to bring about a fully-present and fully-satisfied individual. Meditation may therefore help with alleviating, at least some of the depression.