In their 2012 flyer, the World Health Organization estimated that at least 350 million people live with depression. They call it ‘the hidden burden.’ I’m sure everyone has their theories about why this number is so high – the blame jumping from genetics to unhealthy family environments to school bullying. Not being a doctor or a psychologist or even a psychic, I can’t comment on the stats, although I do know the number one reason I feel down. Do you want me to tell you? Well, you have to promise to keep it a secret. Why? Because people judge those with mental health issues as being crazy or needing to chill out with medication or simply as unstable individuals. I hate being judged. Thank you for promising. Okay, are you ready?
The most common reason I feel depressed: Lack of deep meaningful connection with other people.
My answer sounds silly in this day and age. When have people ever been more connected in the history of the world than now? We interact with others all day long. Our phones ring with calls or buzz with messages. Facebook informs us of upcoming birthdays to celebrate, who’s online and ready to chat; it even knows us well enough to thoughtfully suggest things we may like. We have different circles of relationships in Google Plus, with a tight inner group. Other people favorite and retweet our thoughts about the world. We talk face to face with people too, at work or in line at the grocery store or at the gym. We spend time with our family and friends. We sip lattes in Starbucks with a pal, warm the seats in a movie theater, stay out late drinking with the gang or play childishly at the park with our kids. These are all good experiences.
Yet, despite all this connectivity, I still feel lonely sometimes. Do you ever feel that way too? I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’ll never forget the biography of Canadian comedian and Hollywood funnyman John Candy, the actor who played Uncle Buck. The book by Martin Knelman is titled Laughing on the Outside, The Life of John Candy. Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside was essentially the over arching message. I remember feeling kindred to John in many ways after reading that book – although it was so long ago now that I can barely remember the details of his life except for this duality. The inner versus the outer. That mentality makes a lot of sense and I even do it myself projecting outwards a strong and in-control persona. We all want to seem like a got-it-together person, and maybe sometimes we wish that façade would stick and become our identity.
Technology has irrevocably changed the way we see the world, interact with other people and feel loved. While on paper I may appear extremely connected, and of course I only post my happy pictures online, still I crave deep and soulful relationships where I can be emotionally vulnerable – which doesn’t always translate well into 140 characters on Twitter, for example. Often when I tell people I’m lonely, I am met with strange stares and then a shake of the head. You’re always on your phone talking to people, my husband says. You’re always getting together with people, my mother responds. You’re always with your kids, another mother protests.
I think what I am getting at is the deep need in the human heart for a different kind of interaction, a deeper level of connectivity.
Even just an hour before I sat down to write this, I was messaging with a friend from school. He had typed something unclear and I wondered if he was serious or trying to be funny. When I asked him which it was, the ambiguity continued. In the end, it was nothing more than a silly miscommunication amplified by the lack of tone in talking through such short written dialogue. While it was frustrating, it also caused me to recognize what I longed for in that moment: The desire for effective and meaningful communication, to understand and be understood.
I’m not suggesting the cure for depression is communication, but I bet it would help tremendously. There are many people that absolutely need to find professional listeners in their family doctor and a therapist – and I encourage them to seek out that support (I happen to love going to therapy. There I feel heard, which often results in seeing my own problems differently and being able to better help myself as a result.) Yet, just imagine if a person felt down and they didn’t have to sift through their Facebook timeline to receive encouragement and compassion from an individual in their life. Somehow our culture is not uber-comfortable with difficult subject matter – and this is something I am passionate about changing. If we could be honest with the people in our lives, express our emotions and receive support, maybe the stats of suicide would not be one million out of those 350 million people I mentioned before.
As I get older, I hope for different things out of my relationships. It’s not about being cool and fitting in; for me I look for deep, meaningful and genuine human connection. I find this through conversation that merely grazes fluff subjects settling instead on important matters of the heart, of real life and topics of value. Personally, I’ve discovered face to face or phone conversations the best conduit for this, although any mode of technological platform may be used with intention.
The key point is this: Being vulnerable with another is powerful and transformative. I wish all my relationships could be so rich. Depression does not need to be a hidden and secret burden. It’s by meaningful connection and genuine communication that my loneliness flees and my down days become a whole lot easier to bear.