False Reality and Real Depression

Quick, what are the signs someone is truly depressed?  How do you recognize them?

I’m not entirely sure and I majored in Psychology (to be fair, a generalist), which really just means I’m better at looking them up.  At least twice I know I missed it in people I was friends with.  This of course doesn’t count times I missed it and didn’t know, which is a bit terrifying when you think about it.

There are many challenges facing us in helping friends, family, and ourselves when dealing with depression and other challenges of mood, personality, and mental functioning.  However one of the greatest challenges is knowing when someone is depressed (or has another issue that needs treatment) in the first place, and our culture is not helping.

It’s not just that our popular culture is giving us terribly wrong ideas about mental illness and issues, as Ed the Sock so brilliantly illustrates.

It’s that our culture, I think, confuses us further.

We’re a culture that has gotten rather into grandiose displays of emotion, from happiness to sadness.  We’re a reality TV culture where everything is spectacle, and we take our cues from media.  We’re a culture where reality TV, sensationalist politics, media megachurches, and the like turn real life into an endless drama.  We’re in a culture where people vie for attention and drama has become normalized.

You’ve doubtlessly heard the term “Emo,” which has nothing to do with the comedian, but evolved out of the music scene, and is often tossed around to mean agnsty over-emotionalism that people affect.  We even have a repurposed term for being overly dramatic and angsty and self-destructive (missing, conveniently that some people may show these behaviors and really need help).

So in a culture of grand drama, how the hell do you sort out when someone has real problems as opposed to putting on an act?  It’s far, far too easy to assume someone is being dramatic or having an affectation from culture because we’re used to our culture pushing that kind of behavior.  We can miss real cries for help because of these assumptions.

Our culture also doesn’t provide people a way to reach out – because it is a culture of drama.  Indeed, those who need help are provided few cultural tools for acquiring it; some may even take on cultural affectations from our overly dramatic culture as it seems to be the right (or only) way to get the attention they need.  We don’t provide methods for people who need help to signal it.

To help those who need it, family and friends, we have to work around our culture.  That’s rather sad.

But work we must.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.

Are You Suffering From Learned Helplessness?

I was introduced to learned helplessness in my psychology studies many years ago, and it's one of several concepts that made a deep impression on me.  To sum it up simply, animals and humans exposed to situations where they have (or don't think they have) control eventually act helpless, even at times when they can restore control.  In short, people and animals can  be exposed to experiences that make them act and be helpless even when things change.

This is an incredibly important psychological finding because it's a reminder of how experiences – and approach to handling them – affects our ability to take control of our lives and deal with stress.  Many is the time I've witnessed people in the throws of learned helplessness, and I'm sure upon reflection you've seen it too.  In fact, chances are you've experienced it now and then yourself.

I also see it a lot in people's careers, especially in this economic climate.  I would go as far to say that I think learned helplessness is making the Great Recession far worse for many people.

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