Is sad so bad?
Cases of depression have grown around the world. But while awareness of the illness has helped lift the stigma it once attracted, have we lost touch with the importance of just feeling sad, asks Mary Kenny.
Looking back on my own reasonably serene childhood in Ireland during the 1950s, I recall quiet murmurs about people who suffered from “nerves”.
I remember hearing that a neighbour - a well-to-do woman whose larger house and smart appearance was rather envied in the community - had had a “nervous breakdown”.
Although when I repeated this to my aunt and uncle, with whom I was living, I was hushed up with a peremptory word of censure. There was, clearly, something slightly shameful about a “nervous breakdown” and one didn’t speak about it.
I can see now, though I did not see then, that these were hidden incidents of depression among family and neighbours. But the stigma over depression, or even mental illness of any kind, must have added to their anguish.
How times have changed. It is an accepted truth, in our time, that depression is an illness with a global reach.
t seems that depression in various guises - whether chronic, uni-polar, bi-polar, clinical, recurrent, major or minor - accounts for a greater burden of disease, world-wide, than war, cancer and AIDS all put together.
This new openness is a good thing. Yet in the process, are we losing something?
Take the word, “trauma,” which is now frequently and commonly invoked in conversation today. A person who has suffered a bereavement is said to be “in trauma”.
A person who has been subjected to shock is said to be “traumatised”. The break-up of relationships - a sad human experience which brings us a sense of loss, and hurts our need for attachment - is, similarly, described as “a traumatic experience”.
In his excellent autobiographical study of depression which he so adroitly called Malignant Sadness, Professor Lewis Wolpert employs the concept of “trauma” to describe, for example, bereavement.