Are depression and anxiety hidden in our culture?

ILLUSTRATION BY JON DECKER

BY WEI CAI

Somewhere in my closet, you will find a coloring book that is barely intact and poorly colored.

But this coloring book is unlike what many children grow up with. Nearly a decade old, the focus of this particular coloring book is bullying.

Since I first received this book, bullying has dominated my education. Countless handouts, classes and presentations throughout middle and high school were devoted to discussing it. And that is where the problem begins.

Fast forward and I'm a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Walking through campus, one may notice the landmarks or the natural features. I noticed something else: the service dogs.

INSTINCTIVELY, WE MIGHT ASK HOW AND WHY THIS OCCURRED, BUT COULD THE SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS HAVE BEEN PRESENT ALL ALONG?

As a new student at UMass, I have seen more service dogs here than I have in my lifetime. While they certainly are friendly and adorable, service dogs, most importantly, make life easier for those who need it.

I can’t help but wonder if, in a sense, these service dogs are a reflection of the discussion on depression and anxiety. In a way, it appears bullying has become overemphasized and depression and anxiety are hidden in its shadows.

Don’t get me wrong though, bullying is still a serious topic, but I take issue with the spotlight it has stolen from depression and anxiety. In an ideal world, these topics would share the same stage, but I find it ironic when people are going through issues. The first step to help them cope is simply to talk about it.

As all things go, I find that my generation responds correspondingly to what we are taught in school.

Scrolling through social media, I still find the occasional meme poking fun of commercials for Cymbalta, a medication used to treat depression.

It typically goes something like this: a photo with a person staring off into the distance captioned with, “Depression hurts, Cymbalta can help.

As much as I would like to believe that it’s just someone trying to make their followers laugh, part of me thinks otherwise. Is bullying regarded the same way? Realistically, how many times has someone mocked a Dosomething.org ad about bullying?

A quick search on edHelper – a website full of printable resources used by many elementary school teachers – will show a full page of resources used to teach bullying. On the other hand, depression doesn’t even make the top five search results when you search for it directly. Perhaps the lack of resources to tackle these issues can be attributed to this.

For so many people, depression and anxiety are a reality every single day. The discussion is often silenced because we have not reached the same level of emphasis. Even for celebrities who seemingly have a "perfect life" — 2016 told us otherwise.

For example, Kanye West was hospitalized in November for anxiety and depression-like symptoms, according to the International Business Times.

For many, hearing the phrase “depression and anxiety” associated with West seems like a paradox. Instinctively, we might ask how and why this occurred, but could the symptoms and signs have been present all along?

A good portion of people, myself included, can identify bullying when we see it. The signs are easy to spot, such as someone getting picked on, or disparaging comments on someone’s social media page. When it comes to depression, I don’t think I could confidently identify it. Excessive sleeping is associated with depression. However, it seems too easy to dismiss it as an individual simply being tired.

While some celebrities are more reserved with their private lives and health, West is not alone in battling depression and anxiety. In September, Elle Magazine reported on Selena Gomez’s battle with the same issues.

After coming forward with her story on depression and anxiety, Gomez became a mental health advocate.

The silver lining within all of this is that there is hope.

Depression and anxiety can indeed be treated. Public figures like Gomez are facilitating the conversation on depression and anxiety. She uses her story as a platform to discuss it.

While I continue to see people battling depression and anxiety every day, I have hope that these issues will soon be regarded with the same weight as the other issues my generation faces — without living in the shadows of another discussion.

Email Wei at wcai@umass.edu or follow him on Twitter @weicaiumass.

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