Being ‘Almost Depressed’ Sounds A Lot Like Being ‘Almost Poor’

“Could you almost be depressed?”

The CNN article headline read like a excerpt from the online satirical news publication, The Onion. It took everything in my power to read each progressing sentence without throwing my iPad against the wall.

Apparently, it’s not enough that persons with major depression should spend their entire lives stigmatized and a percentage of their forever income on treatment. Now, persons who experience even mild dissatisfaction with life are being targeted for labeling, tagged with a lifelong badge of “crazy” for symptoms that may require nothing more than a simple PAY RAISE to remedy.

Could you almost be depressed? Surprisingly the answer is a resounding, YES. But only because being “almost depressed” sounds a lot like being “almost poor”. As the security of middle-class living becomes more and more precarious, it’s no wonder that nearly every “symptom” of “almost depression” finds a direct correlation to being near the poverty line. But that’s about where the funny part ends.

Rather than discuss the negative effects of rampant income inequality, the established order is perfectly content with trying to convince the populous that the waning quality of their work, family, and social lives is the fault of a mental disease—not their own exploitation. If almost depression can be successfully adopted as something that requires medicine, the long hours, low wages, high taxes, and exploitation of the working class won’t require further examination. Almost depression would almost be clever if it weren’t completely ridiculous.

But misdirection is a powerful tool. There’s a been a campaign going on in America for a long time now which seeks to make fast clinical significance of every negative feeling people may have. From anxiety to depression, being uncomfortable with how your life is going has largely been expressed as a problem of “YOU”. Life SEEMS unworthy of living because YOU can’t find something worthy for which to live. YOU feel powerless because YOU’RE not making enough effort. If only YOU would try harder to appreciate what you have YOU wouldn’t feel this way. And so, the burden of proof concerning how well someone’s life is turning out continues to concern itself with this concept of “YOU”, effectively suggesting that each person is the sole cause of their own misery.

But us human beings aren’t born into vacuums; we’re born into an environment that—unless you’ve completely slept through 6th grade science and the rest of your life—contributes MASSIVELY to how we experience the world. When we talk about depression, there is most certainly a perceptual component which ultimately can be traced back to the person. HOWEVER. What happens when we do examine environment? What happens when being almost depressed becomes a direct result of being underpaid, overworked, and disregarded? What then, when being almost depressed doesn’t require a pill? Because sometimes it’s not YOU. Sometimes life REALLY ISN’T worth living. Sometimes YOU actually ARE powerless. Sometimes an environment becomes so oppressive that people cannot function well.

In the last few decades of SOARING corporate profits and political influence, a MASSIVE propaganda campaign has been launched to normalize feelings of exploitation felt by the underclass. Successfully normalizing feelings of helplessness, sadness, and powerlessness as a product of “chemical imbalance”, something to be remedied by medication, or simply an accepted axiom of “that’s how it’s always been”, is a way of manufacturing acceptance and consent amongst a population meant to be controlled. By convincing those being exploited that the problem lies with them, it ensures they don’t go searching for the real problems and ask for change.

But there’s another curiously ingenious reason for choosing mental illness as a means of mitigating the general populations’ dissatisfaction with the established order: it’s difficult to contest without looking like a complete jerk.

Could you ALMOST be depressed? 

There comes, with its digestion, that particular looming absurdity last felt when someone asked you if Santa Claus was real. It’s an awkward predicament. You know the answer is “no”. But you also know that being right doesn’t matter, and that the facade of toy factories and civilization thriving at the North Pole will continue. Worse, yet, is the added danger of being the “bad guy”, the guy with no spirit, the “grinch”, the jerk—who also just happens to be right.

To even suggest that persons experiencing mild sadness might actually be exhibiting signs of a terrible mental disorder, has tremendous implications. It isn’t something to be taken lightly; you don’t just throw something like that out there for the sake of some lapse in entertainment. This article is calling people out and signing them up, identifying specific symptoms and evoking a familiar picture of victims we all know and love. When you start naming victims it’s all over; the fantasy becomes real—just like Santa Claus. And, when the fantasy becomes real, anyone caught with a skeptical eye on the precise motives of naming “Almost Depressed” is bound to find themselves on the opposite side of hope. American culture has long since been well-groomed on the legitimacy of major depression; questioning that acceptance makes you a nonbeliever and an enemy of hope. Depression afflicts real people and real relationships: our friends, our families, and how we enjoy our time with them. Dismissing the pain of others who suffer from legitimate depression as part of a bigger political and economic agenda not only makes you sound paranoid, it makes you cruel.

According to the article, the symptoms of being almost depressed include:

Having trouble enjoying things that used to be fun.

Yes. Things used to be more fun when I had less debt and when the cost of living was lower. I used to be able to afford going to a friend’s wedding, visiting a far away city over a long weekend, or inviting others over for a large dinner party. These things used to be fun because they USED to be affordable.

Regularly finding excuses to avoid spending time with friends or family.

Perhaps the saddest repercussion of low wages, longer hours, and less vacation time is how such exploited people retreat from their social and civic lives. To strengthen the bonds of community, family, and friendship, such commitments require adequate investments of time and money. You can’t support the local tea-ball team or attend a dance class with neighborhood friends if you’re always working and usually broke.

It seems like you’re “just going through the motions” and barely getting through the day.

Longer hours with no raises or opportunities for job advancement creates jaded workers very quickly. Let’s not also forget that the U.S. government does not guarantee ANY paid holidays or vacation time for employees. These effects are doubly exacerbated by the shrinking opportunities of higher education that costs a fortune.

You feel overstressed and believe there is no way you can ever catch up with what you have to do.

Working over 70 hours a week at minimum wage would barely leave room for a person to sleep, eat and do their laundry, let alone “catch up” on things they have to do. If you’re always working, even what little downtime you have becomes work. People have to sleep, eat, and care for their basic needs in the few hours they aren’t at work. Overstressed? Do I even have to dictate what stress levels are like for someone who can’t make ends meet with 70 hours a week?

The article goes on to tell readers that if ANY of these symptoms rings true for them, they may be suffering from “almost depression”. Then it really ups the ante by alerting you to the fact that nearly 75% of people who are classified as “almost depressed” slide into major clinical depression. Nice. Real nice.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In under just three decades, the clinical language of mental disorders has made its way into the hearts and minds of the average population. The degree to which these trends have assimilated themselves into the everyday experiences of ordinary people is such that things like “depression” have become commonplace in the lexicons of the general populous. The phrase “I’m depressed” is no longer associated with some rare expression of a deep and inconsolable sadness, but rather, it’s become the expression of the mildest of dissatisfaction with life.

Everyone can appreciate how such wide acceptance and usage of clinical language helps the pharmaceutical industry’s bottom lines. The more people you convince need medicine for life, the more money you make. However, the more subtle control mechanism at play may be even more deadly. It has to do with perception and misdirection.

People working 50 to 60 hours a week, and who are struggling to make ends meet, don’t need medication they can’t afford; they need higher wages. Propaganda machines that mean to mislabel the problems of an exploited underclass as an emerging mental disorder serve only one purpose: continued exploitation. Successfully labeling the human cost of financial inequality as a problem with the VICTIMS and not the SYSTEM itself is exactly what the ruling class mean to accomplish. Because as long as the underclass are blaming themselves, buying medicine, and focusing elsewhere for solutions, they aren’t demanding accountability for a broken system that refuses to serve them.

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Matthew Rosario

American / Writer / Musician