Depression, as I am using it, refers to a mental health concern characterized by low mood and disturbances in sleep, concentration, energy, self-esteem and hope. Diagnosing a Major Depressive Episode however is a little more complex than just endorsing items on a list and if you feel those items relate to you please reach out to a professional for help! Before this zombie-apocalypse-light, the rates of mood disorders, including Depression, in Canada were about 1 in every 10 Canadians and evidence from the United States suggests that those numbers have dramatically increased with Covid (over 500% increases based on some stats). Depression isn’t something that happens to “them” but rather it is something that happens to “us” and very likely “you” and “I.” Depression comes from an overlapping of a lot of factors including your genetics, environment and behaviours. Covid has dramatically shifted our environments and behaviours in ways that will increase the risk of Depression.
Essentially, Depression is a disease of under-stimulation. One likely cause of depression is changes in the chemicals in our brain- like Dopamine and Serotine. These are “happy making” chemicals. Evolutionarily these chemicals are released to promote positive behaviours: You do something good for you or your species and you get a shot of these chemicals to make it more likely you will do that again. For some people, the systems that release these chemicals work differently because the machine is out of whack but for a lot of people we are not doing the things we need to do regularly to release enough of these chemicals. I sit with a lot of young people and ask them “What are you doing that makes you happy?” and if I could put words to the looks they give me in response, it would be something along the lines of, “I’m depressed jackass. Nothing makes me happy.”
Depression is not a disease of laziness and I am not trying to add to the stigma around those who struggle with it. Rather, what I am saying is that regardless of where it came from, you are the only person who is going to be able to fix it and fixing it is going to take work. For many this will include medications that help make receiving those “happy” chemicals easier. However, even within that, you must start moving and doing things that release them. This is hard to do though as the deeper the depression, the more every fibre of your being sees those things as overwhelming and pointless. With Covid, the list of available things that release the happy in our noggins has shrunk dramatically making it even more difficult.
One of the most brilliant metaphors for Depression I have seen is in the movie the Neverending Story. This scene might be singlehandedly responsible for f$&king up the childhoods of a generation…remember it? The scene I am referring to is Artax in the Swamps of Sadness. Artax was Atreyu’s beloved horse. The journey for Atreyu and Artax becomes difficult and, when in the Swamps of Sadness, Artax gets stuck. Atreyu does everything he can to unstick his friend from the mud. Artax stops moving and the swamp consumes him. The deeper Artax sinks, the harder it becomes for him to move. Atreyu desperately pulls on the reigns but realizes nothing he can do can move his friend. Exhausted and defeated Artax sinks.
This metaphor is heartbreaking in it’s brilliance. We are in the mud as a society at the moment. Moving from that mud is hard. It feels like we will never get out of the mud. The world around us is heavy and there is relief in stopping the fight and letting the mud consume us. But we must keep moving. If we do not, we will sink. The more we sink, the harder moving becomes. Small steps in the mud include doing things that once made you happy, reaching out to others, going for a walk, participating in a hobby, and asking for help!
In the words of Atreyu to Artax, “Don’t let the sadness of the swamps get to you. You have to try. You have to care. You’re my friend. I love you.”