Given that I’ve pledged this year to blog about mental health for others as well as myself, I guess I should talk about what I just heard at the checkout at the grocery store. This guy came in loudly complaining to the cashier about the winter and the cold. Understandable, it’s dropped back down to 29° last I checked, with the wind probably making it significantly worse. The cashier agreed with him and began to express some concern for a friend of hers who was not dealing well with the winter at all. This friend, she said, was pregnant, quite depressed, and had even gone so far as to try and kill herself. Sounds serious.
“Well”, the man said, gruff, Brooklynish, probably a likable enough local character in his own way, “you know, people got a right to be depressed—for a little while you know. But after a while, it’s gotta stop, you gotta pick your ass up, and pull yourself together, know what I’m sayin’?”
The cashier, a part owner in the little grocery and vegetable stand, mumbled something softly in protest, in her polite but clipped Korean accent, again reiterating her concern for her friend. The store is less then a year old, she doesn’t want to get up into it with potentially returning customers, but you can see she’s bothered. He also senses this, I guess, because he turns to me and asks “You know what I’m sayin’ don’tcha?”
I hesitate for a second, clutching a bundle of kale and box of couscous. I’ve been quiet, patiently waiting for my turn to pay this whole time. Is there something about the way I look or carry myself that made it seem I’d agree, striped stocking cap, chipped black-and-purple nail polish, dirty brown pullover hoodie (screenprinted with skulls by Eric’s friend Snake, who used to do that kind of thing.)? Are these assumptions and stigmas just so widespread that it’s a given that anybody would believe them? How do you know a complete stranger doesn’t deal with depression (I do) or hasn’t attempted suicide (I have) or known people who have? (again…)
“Well, no” I said “I think there are depressions that are part of a chemical imbalance or mental illness, and people might need help.”
“Oh. Oh, well I’m not talking about mentally ill people, I’m talking about regular people. Regular people, they can be depressed for a while, but then they gotta get themselves together. Aw, but I didn’t mean to hold you up talking, go pay for your greenies. And you,” he looked again at the cashier “Just—keep calling your friend, make sure she has someone to talk to.” At last, some good advice.
I never learned where regular-people-depression ends and mental illness begins. I do know that some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, where they get depressed in the winter time due to lack of sunlight. I’ve been fortunate not to have ever grappled with this particular flavor of depression myself, being a consummate night owl, but even I’ve noticed something seemed a bit off when we lived in a windowless room, or if I go too long without stepping out during daylight hours. From what I’ve heard about it though, those who are affected by this can be severely afflicted. I’ve read studies linking it to rates of alcoholism and suicide in Northern regions of the globe where nights endlessly extend for parts of the year. I’ve heard speculations, some joking, some not so, that such sunless moodiness played into the ouvres of the Munchs and Bergmans of the world, though I’m not one for explaining art away so reductively. As to why this happens, NMHA explains it as such:
- As sunlight has affected the seasonal activities of animals (i.e., reproductive cycles and hibernation), SAD may be an effect of this seasonal light variation in humans. As seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns. This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules.
- Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has been linked to SAD. This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark. Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases.
So anyway, I guess that’s it, just a little reminder that those who suffer from depression, seasonal or any type, won’t be helped by being stigmatized. Here’s some links to read more about S.A.D. :