This post belongs to a blog series on depression. In this series, we’ll talk about how we think of depression, what’s scientifically researched, and possible solutions to the widely spread, modern phenomenon. In this part, we’ll focus on poverty.
Paraphrasing the Quran, scientists worldwide and depressed people themselves;
“Depression is a natural reaction to an unnatural situation.”
Depression is the sensation that you’re stuck. In yourself, in time, in this suffering you constantly feel. When depressed, you can’t seem to get out of your head; everything revolves around your pain; you can’t imagine a future or a meaning; everything seems hopeless and worthless.
The word “depression” is, in many ways, wrong. It could be called “disconnection”, because that’s what depression is about: disconnection from ourselves, from the people around us, and from nature. An anti-depressant isn’t just a small pill you swallow to make everything better. It’s anything and anyone that helps you feel connected to the moment. Most of the time we’re unfortunately not. Constant Wi-fi connection does not count as a valuable connection.
I can’t give you a one-hit-wonder, one-size-fits-all kind of solution. But I can give you this:
Once depression kind of lifts, you start to be able to plan again. Once you can sense a future, you know the cloud is lifting. Once we connect to something in ourselves, in others or in nature again, we immediately feel better.
We don’t need miracles. We just need connections.
When I worked in the bar, I found it tedious going to work. Every day was the same. The hours were long, the tasks menial and the conditions inhumane. I could space out, feeling numb, just watch the minutes pass by. One summer I worked in over 30°Celsius heat for seven hours shifts or longer. Another time I wasn’t able to take more than one break in ten hours, since we were understaffed and the sale comes before everything (don’t even get me started on casual capitalism).
The result was the same, though the work environments and colleagues changed over the course of five years. I felt exhausted, uninspired, and constantly irritated. During my few days or hours off, I didn’t have it in me to find joy in the things I used to love; to write, to dance, to take long walks. Old friendships faded away since I never had time to see them. Family members got used to follow me online.
When I finally quit, I cried for days. I mean, I’d cried for days while working, too, this wasn’t new to me; but now it was of relief.
(By the way, crying is a natural reaction to an intense emotional peak. If you feel something deep and strong enough, chances are you’ll cry for it. Some of us are more sensitive than others. For a period of a few years, I didn’t cry at anything, because I suppressed my emotions in order to be able to work where I worked. Thanks to time, space and a loving boyfriend, I feel much better now, and can and will cry when something moves me.)
(And I’m not saying that working in a bar is horrible. It just wasn’t compatible with who I am and the lifestyle I want to lead.)
And that’s how I know that poverty and depression indeed walk hand in hand. Surprising though it might seem, it has less to do with living paycheck to paycheck – although that’s rough, too – and more to do with the feeling of hopelessness.
Future or no future
Michael Chandler, a psychology professor, did research on the development of identity in the 1960’s. He went to a psychiatric unit for teenagers and interviewed two groups: one of anorexic and one of suicidally depressed teenagers. The two groups got to read comic book adaptations of classic novels. He asked the teenagers to think about the characters; will they be the same person in the future; will they change; how, and why?
Both groups were very sick, and their distress levers similar. However, the anorexic children could answer the questions, while the depressed ones couldn’t.
“[There] was kind of an across-the-board failure to be able to understand how a person could go on being the same individual”,
he sums up his research in an interview with Johann Hari. They couldn’t imagine the future for a fictional character, just as they couldn’t see their own. Their future had disappeared.
Depression is the feeling that you have no future. You can’t plan or hope. There’s nothing. If your work and your surroundings are choking any or all future possibilities, you’ll find yourself stuck. There’s no point in planning anything, because you’re not going anywhere.
This directly correlates to poverty.
If you’re working a menial job, chances are you’ll be low paid, which means you won’t be able to save up money. You’ll find yourself lacking financial security, or if you’re lucky enough, you’ll able to save a few hundred bucks – which will disappear down a sinkhole as soon as you’re sick, you need new car insurance, or an unexpected bill fall through the mail slot. With a job like this, you can’t look ahead. And that’s not only daunting, it’s exhausting.
Universal basic income
With the likes of historian Rutger Bregman in the lead, social experiments with universal basic income have had only positive feedback. The basic minimum would be just that – enough to live on, but not enough to splurge on luxuries. It would, however, be the difference for people who are stuck in the wheel of poverty.
When people aren’t stressed out about being able to keep a roof over their heads, food on their tables and clothes on their children, they bloom. Mental health issues all but disappear when people spend time together, when they have the opportunity to focus more on doing what they love. Education levels rise and teenage pregnancies are minimised. Behavioural problems like ADHD and childhood depression plummets. (For more, read the New York Times’ take on the issue.)
Adversaries to the notion of universal basic income claim that it would feed the lazy side in people, that no one would work and that society would plummet into its own gluttony. However, when asked what people would do if they had more time and didn’t need to worry about money, the vast majority say they’d spend more time with family, or cultivating skills they wish they had: gardening, learning a new language, writing. They never give their fellow men the benefit of the doubt, though, even though most would answer that they would keep working, if a bit less.
The investment of universal basic income is paid back by a healthier society. I believe we desperately need a basic minimum income for everyone, simply because it would be best for everyone.
I’m not saying that money can buy happiness. Materialism feeds junk values that feeds the worst impulses in human nature (we’ll talk more about that later). But money can indeed “buy” a sense of security, and it buys you time – future time, time you can plan for. You don’t need much to feel rich – you can live on a pretty tight budget and still have a wonderful life – but you need more than the bare minimum.
You need to feel valued; that what you do make a difference. The best way to achieve that is for one, doing things for others – because their happiness and comfort is as important as your won – and two, making sure that whatever it is you value has true value for you, not just junk value.
Do your best for others and focus on the things you value.
If you’ve ever suffered from depression, still do, know someone who does, or just want to feel more connected to yourself and the world, please read “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. Everything I write in this series stems from my personal experiences combined with his immaculate research in that wonderful book. We’re lucky to have such dedicated people as him in our midst. The book is definitely worth your time. Please read it.
You can find his book on his website or check your local bookstore (online shopping emits a lot of carbon, and it’s great to support other businessmen than Jeff Bezos).
If you feel like taking the crash course on reconnection, watch the fascinating interview with Hari by Matt D’Avella. Matt does immaculate work free from ads.
Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged.