To say depression has become widespread today would be an understatement. Psychology may be the first discipline we turn to for understanding the recent rise in depression, but sociology has important explanations to offer too. The sociology of depression is an area of study that has been around for over a century and sociological perspectives should be part of the discussion on depression.
What is depression, sociologically speaking?
Depression is a period of unhappiness or low morale which lasts for several weeks and may include ideation of self-inflicted injury or suicide. On a closer examination, a depressed patient finds solace in solitude rather than associating with people due to either external or internal factors. Depression is a mood disorder that prevents its victim from leading a normal life either workwise, or even the society at large. And of course, among the top factors that trigger depression is stress, loss of loved ones, and many other factors.
Sociologically, stress is one factor that contributes to the major causes of depression in people. It comes from different angles such as unsettled marriage, oppressive working conditions, unreasonable parental controls, being a victim of violent crimes, in fact, these factors are endless.
Imagine losing a close relative! This may cause a lifetime of depression if care isn’t taken. This brings us to Martin Seligman’s cognitive explanation of depression called “learned helplessness.” His theory states that depression surfaces when the victim learns that their attempts to escape negative situations continue to prove abortive. As a result, they become adapted to the ugly environment or situation even when help finally comes.
A Personal Example
I once had a friend who was so close to my family. This is someone we’ve been together with since childhood. He was a very pleasant person who loved interacting with everybody around him, but things changed when he lost his mom. You can imagine the shock of not seeing that loved one again for eternity! He withdrew from all sociable activities, family, friends, and everything he loved doing. It was that bad.
He would always complain of being stressed out without doing anything in particular. There’s a belief in my locality that an idle person shouldn’t complain of stress because they haven’t carried out any physical activities. But, what about mental stress?
Most times, his younger brother and I will force him to go out with us, play his favorite sport, which is football, stroll around so that he can get over the shock. But little did we know that in as much as he’s trying to escape from the depressed stage, he has been contemplating suicide when he thought he couldn’t.
I was called on emergency one evening only to be informed that my friend had taken his own life—”suicide.” Didn’t we try our possible best to save him from that depressed stage? We did, but he couldn’t cope with life, or perhaps, he didn’t get the right medication. That was how I lost a dear friend to depression. The number of suicidal attempts courtesy of depression is to a higher degree now, and there seems to be no help forthcoming.
Sociology of Depression and Suicide
According to Emile Durkheim’s suicide theory, one major cause of suicide is acute depression which isn’t treated as urgent. Durkheim argues that suicide isn’t a person nor an individual action but a powerful force that is beyond the capacity of the victim.
On a closer look, these powerful forces are no more than major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many more.
One of Durkheim’s types of suicide is anomic, which can be very well related to depression. Suicidal thoughts occur from major depression when a sudden development surfaces, such as losing a loved one or bankruptcy. However, how well the depressed manages or attempts to get out of it is what matters.
Have you ever imagined the thoughts going on in the mind of someone dealing with depression?
- They believe no individual will understand their plight
- They think seeking help is a sign of weakness
- They believe their close relatives and friends will be better off without them
- They think they are normal with the sudden changes and all kinds of unpalatable thoughts.
These are merely examples of what might be in their minds. According to some doctors and psychologists, most people with suicidal thoughts are pathological, but Durkheim’s theory makes us understand it as social. It is a result of social disorganization, lack of social integration, and social solidarity.
How do we respond to depression, sociologically?
People might not readily state that they are suffering from depression, but through changes in behavior it may be possible to identify when someone is depressed. Having discovered this, here are some ways to sociologically respond to depression:
- Do not leave the victim alone for a long time. Ensure to always be there for them while cheering them up with lively discussions. This helps them keep a happy and enjoyable moment.
- Encourage them to confide in you. This can happen only if you’re close to the individual and you show genuine concern. Let them feel you are in their shoes, so you understand what they are going through. Tell them soothing words afterward to lift the burden off them.
- Help them find a therapist so you can together proffer solutions to the causes of their depression.
- Above all, the most important response is social interaction. Encourage the individual attend gatherings, events, and any lively places to have fun and interact with people.
One Final Note
Sociology believes in the magic of social interaction among living and non-living things. So, the best help we can render ourselves, especially individuals suffering from depression, is creating a social bond with them where they can feel secure and loved. With this, we can have a society with less depression.
Graduate Student Mental Health in Sociology