The Allegory of the Cave and the Stigma of Depression in Society
Society today is getting more and more open to new and different opinions, but those who are uneducated cause the greater harm. Due to a lack of understanding, many people are still ignorant of those diagnosed with depression. The small amount of empathy and sympathy connected to depression is what makes the statistics rise. Research, studies, prescription medications, as well as stories tell the tale to be true: depression is a ‘thing’; it is turning into an epidemic that only so many are immune from. The way depression is treated by doctors and medications can only go so far; truly, it is society’s people who will make or break the depression at the end of their battle.
The Misunderstood Reality of Depression
Depression. Commonly confused with sadness, it can be categorized with a negative connotation. Another negative word that begins with ‘D’ is disorder. When the word disorder is used, many will immediately think of messy, unable, and chaos. Sadly, many people do not feel the same when depression is diagnosed as a mental disorder. Holmes describes in her comical article about the stigma behind depression that “only 25 percent of people with mental health issues feel that other people are compassionate and sympathetic toward them”. This statistic is shocking, knowing that “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives” (Geneva). One-fourth one-fourth of those diagnosed feel they are irrelevant as an ill person by the so-called ‘healthy.’
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Holmes’ “What If” article comically describes the stigma behind those with mental illnesses being maltreated by the ‘normals’ of society. The biggest obstacle for a mentally ill person is connecting to societal standards of living. In her article, she uses depictions from “artist Robot Hugs [who] created a comic that displays what it would be like if we discussed physical illnesses in the same way we do mental illnesses” (Holmes “What If”). The most accurate cartoon illustrated a man with his hand chopped off and a woman telling him, “You just need to change your frame of mind, and you’ll feel better.” Holmes wrote a second similar article, “9 Things Only People With Depression Can Truly Understand,” that explains the chopped hand cartoon and depression being “not the sort of thing you can just wake up and be over one morning — and suggesting such may be sending an unsupportive message” (Holmes “9 Things”). The last thing one with depression needs is unsupportive and unsympathetic connotations.
According to the article “What Is Depression?”, depression is one of the many “disorders [that] belong to the category of mental health conditions known as mood disorders.” Meaning the disorder can severely alter and change a person’s mood and perception. The way this disorder affects mood will be its victim’s saving grace. As a bystander, the best way to help a victim is to be there and watch for the following signs. The simplest of symptoms include: “feelings of sadness, loneliness, or emptiness that last most of the day for several days on end [and] loss of interest or pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable” (“What”).
There are more symptoms that can be ignored, such as “talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself; talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; … being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated, or reckless; sleeping too little or too much; Withdrawing or feeling isolated; and displaying extreme mood swings.” (“Risk”). These signs can be brushed off as a phase or even a joke to the naked eye and the selective hearing. The scary truth behind such statements is the risk of suicide, while there is “no single cause for suicide[,] suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated” (“Risk”). Keep the warning signs in mind as you converse with anyone; you could ultimately save a life in the end.
The pulsating stigma connected to depression is unnecessary yet so relevant when thought of on a small scale. That scale is so very large and holds around “450 million people [who] currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide” (Geneva). The Healthway article describes that “most people associate depression with an overwhelming feeling of sadness or loss of interest in everyday activities, but depression can be so much more than just that” (Douglass). Douglass provides statistics that depression affects over “15 million Americans every year and is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15 to 45.”
Referring to depression as a disability may be upsetting to some percentage of disbelievers, but there is no better way to describe depression once you hear the wake-up call of symptoms. Surely enough, “many people still don’t get that being diagnosed with a mental illness isn’t something that’s in their control — just like having the flu, or food poisoning, or cancer isn’t in their control” (Holmes “What If”). The main problem is “that depression doesn’t present itself in the same ways in all people. Many people often miss the signs because theirs don’t seem typical.” (Douglass).
Empathy and Understanding: A Path to Enlightenment
Even the depressed can miss their own signs; it is no wonder that many can brush depression off as if it’s just a fly, temporarily buzzing until shooed away. Geneva reflects that “currently, more than 40% of countries have no mental health policy and over 30% have no mental health program. Around 25% of countries have no mental health legislation.’ This leads to the fact of “science, ethics, and experience point to clear paths to follow. In the face of this knowledge, a failure to act will reflect a lack of commitment to address mental health problems, and it is up to their governments to properly inform the people of the dangers associated with depression and suicide. The lack of knowledge is what causes many of the patients to go untreated.
Using Psych Scene Hubs “How to Diagnose Depression? – Diagnostic Clinical Interview.” I asked my best friend Claire Slaughter a series of questions from this interview.
“Have you felt low or depressed in yourself lately?” (“How”).
“A little bit, not as much as normal today” (Slaughter).
“Have you had problems making decisions?” (“How”).
“I always have a hard time deciding to get out of bed or putting effort into any decision; sometimes it’s just pointless” (Slaughter).
“Since you’ve been feeling low, have you noticed any changes in your appetite? … [Y]our weight?” (“How”)
“Yes, I either forget to eat or I just can’t stop” (Slaughter).
“Yeah, last year I had lost up to ten pounds in one week.”
“Do you find it difficult to fall asleep? … [Or to] stay asleep?” (“How”).
“It takes me absolutely forever to fall asleep, and if I go to bed upset, then I wake up upset in the morning. I like the comfort of my bed – it keeps me safe” (Slaughter).
“How do you see the future? Do you see a future?” (“How”).
“At first, I used to only think short term and just for now, but recently I have been thinking of my future. Now I only want to see my future so it can distract and let me escape my depression” (Slaughter).
“It is not unusual/sometimes when people feel low they may have thoughts of suicide/not wanting to be here… Have you ever felt that way?” (“How”).
“I’ve never really thought or contemplated about it because it’s selfish, and if you love people, you can’t do that to them. But there was one time I was driving on the highway, and I thought if I drove off, I could just end it” (Slaughter).
Claire was clinically diagnosed with depression after Hurricane Harvey, which took away the one place she felt safest – her home. She thus went on medications when she knew it was best for her and those around her. Claire has been my best friend since I was a child; I even attended her baby shower before she was born. I had never met a girl as strong as this one, and when I heard she was broken – it broke me, too. I have never been good with emotions from myself, let alone others.
Claire’s depression opened an emotional portal for me; I knew I had to just be present for her when she needed me. I could not force her to be happy or do things that I thought would make her happy. In all honesty, just sitting and listening to her helped her to get better as well. It was a big step for her to tell her doctor and even harder for her to tell me. Being with Claire through her depression helped me be better at expressing and understanding emotions from all angles while helping her know she would not ever be alone during her rough times and righteous times.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: Seeking Truth Beyond Shadows
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave has been interpreted in many ways by many readers; it has a special and different meaning to all the messages touched. The Allegory denotes prisoners “having their legs and necks fettered … so that they remain in the same spot, able to look forward only.” (Plato 747). Behind the prisoners is a fire that helps to cast shadows of the outside world they do not know. Eventually, a prisoner is released from the cave to enjoy the “folly in the course of nature” and see “the dazzle and glitter of light…what do you suppose would be his answer if someone told him that what he had seen before was all a cheat and an illusion… [, but] now he turned toward more real things, he saw more truly” (Plato 748).
When this prisoner arrived back in the cave, his acquaintances from before refused to believe there was any world out there other than the shadows they had seen. Plato wrote this Allegory to describe how he was treated by the traditionalists of society when he had new and scientific ideas that were indeed true. A depressed person feels the same in today’s society as Plato did hundreds of years ago: unloved, disbelieved, misunderstood, a nuisance, and irrelevant. Everyone has their own struggles and caves; it takes someone strong to walk out of theirs to see the light that awaits. It takes someone patient and brave to walk into one else’s cave to show them the truth, love, and light that awaits when the prisoner is ready to be fully unshackled.
Depression is a misunderstood epidemic that so few have any empathy for. The knowledge and information are out there, but for those opposed to depression being a mental illness – they will not know until affected directly. Remember, everyone has their own caves to trek through; please do not be part of the small percentage of society who tie the figurative noose around a depressed being. Be there for someone, watch for any warning signs, and you too will crawl out of a cave you did not know you possessed until you help another out of theirs.
- Douglas, Lisa. “12 Common Symptoms Of Depression That Shouldn’t Be Ignored.” HealthyWay, 2 May 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yd7l7ech
- Geneva. “Mental Disorders Affect One in Four People.” World Health Organization, 4 October 2001, www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/.
- Holmes, Lindsay. “9 Things Only People With Depression Can Truly Understand.” HuffPost, 6 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/depression-frustrations_n_5692649.
- Holmes, Lindsay. “What If People Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness?” HuffPost, 6 December 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/mental-illness-physical-i_n_6145156.
- “How to Diagnose Depression? – Diagnostic Clinical Interview.” Psych Scene Hub, https://psychscenehub.com/psychpedia/depression-diagnostic-interviewing/
- Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.” Plato: Collected Dialogues. Trans. P. Shorey. Ed. Hamilton & Cairns. Random House, 1963. pp. 747–752.
- “Risk Factors and Warning Signs.” AFSP, 14 November 2018, https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/
- Slaughter, Claire. Personal Interview. 4 December 2018.
- “What Is Depression?” Resources To Recover, 24 October 2018, www.rtor.org/depression/?gclid=CjwKCAiA0O7fBRASEiwAYI9QAoYPQVp5YDLJEIt6oQHRFvWf3uc5VI6XrIWJ3V3qWt7CXfNctxflARoCDSIQAvD_BwE.