Skyler Simpkins ’23
The title of this piece might have some of you asking questions. Questions like, “Where is this editorial heading?” and “Is this a metaphor?” are ringing in my ears just writing this piece. If you are one of these people asking these questions, I am happy for you; the metaphor is lost in the ears of those with adequate dopamine and serotonin coursing through their neuronal synapses. For those of you who understand this metaphor—even if you have never heard of it before reading this piece—I dedicate this article to you. I also dedicate this article to the celebration of Black History Month. While I will never understand the systemic racial injustices of this world, I can understand the mental strain and inevitable anhedonia arising from living as a “second class” citizen in this world. I know that many more people of color will understand the title of this piece than white people, and that is what I am here to discuss today: how intersectionalities of identity different from the heterosexual white male norm contribute to mental illness and the loss of cerebral bliss.
Before getting into the data on this deafening issue, let me explain the metaphor for those of you who want to understand. When you suffer from depression, you begin to focus on smaller and smaller incidents in your life, eventually finding yourself continually ruminating on the past. If you suffer from suicidal ideations, you will begin to focus on if and how these tiny occurrences in your life fit into the mangled mental framework of your mind, and if and how they support your continuation or discontinuation of life. The title of this editorial is the puzzle piece with the most-perfect fit. It is rare to run out of shampoo and conditioner at the exact same time, so when you do, maybe it’s a sign. Maybe it’s a nod from the universe that you should no longer inhabit this Earth and that, like the shampoo and conditioner, your essence has been drained and is ready to be trashed. And no, not all depressed people become these spiritual mediums. Depression just causes the need to search for meaning and to search for reason and the answer to why your mind has lost faith in the world you have landed yourself in and why it might not get any better. When you have lost all reliance on empirical justification for your mental venture into Socrates’ cave, the non-nomothetic methods of interpretation begin to garner greater mental salience, and a simple thing like shampoo and conditioner running out at the same time becomes that sought after nod from the universe that your time has come to embark on an early venture down the soil of this Earth.
When one suffers from suicidal ideations, everything around you begins to symbolize the grim reaper and how close it is to satisfying the singular goal of the ominous mistletoe hanging over your head. From this metaphor we can pivot to the main discussion of this editorial: the unequal distribution of these thoughts and depressive symptomatology over the variety of identities represented on every racial, sexual, ethnic, and socioeconomic spectrum. The highest suicide rate belongs to white men, followed closely by indigenous male populations. Black and then Asian men are next on this list. Looking at only the racial spectrum in this rating can be a bit misleading, as it is not only the racial and gender spectra but their interaction with sexual, ethnic, and socioeconomic spectra that create the individual environments that must be survived. With men being the primary “breadwinners” in many areas of the world, the socioeconomic spectrum hits hard, making life feel even more intolerable when facing trying financial times. Also, the concept of “masculinity” is one devoid of emotion and, especially, sharing one’s emotions with someone else. Men striving to be this “masculine” figure will bottle up their emotions, leading to a darker depression that seems wholly inescapable. Furthermore, “masculinity” has become a powerful identifier for most men, due to its carrying the weight of most other men’s acknowledgement and congratulations; therefore, striding from the “masculine” ideal—which is heterosexual, cisgendered, and socioeconomically well-off—will cause tremendous emotional pain as that title that preserves so many societal relationships with other men is ripped away.
What about women? Shouldn’t women, who undeniably fare harder in this world than their male counterparts, suffer from suicidal ideations at a greater rate than men? To some degree, they do: Women attempt suicide at a rate 1.5x that of men. Extending from suicidal ideation to depression and major depressive disorder (MDD), numerous research has identified that the more marginalized and intersectional identities to which one belongs—whether gender-based, racial/ethnic, or socioeconomic—the higher their scores on inventories set to evaluate depression. Below, I would like to share with you some of the reasons I think this problem is present in our society—and why it will likely continue without major social and cultural reform.
When you inhabit a world not built for you but for a tyrannical oppressor, you will have your cultures discarded or commodified and your communities fall in the wake of the missing favor of the high-powered classes. Your desires will not be fulfilled unless you are lucky enough to share desires with those holding the checkbook. After this world has been built to the liking of the white, heterosexual, cisgendered man, opinions of those representing other identities will be suppressed for the likes of those similar to the powerful man. The man and his lookalikes will then stew up some horrifically racist and vehement attack to explain their superiority over all those who fail to have their desires met or opinions heard. Now that is a quick explanation of colonization and the world it creates and the culture it incubates; regardless, our postcolonial world is still heavily influenced by colonial forces, leading to the value of some identities over the rest. Living as a “second class” citizen in this world intensifies depressive symptomatology.
This valuation of the white man’s desires over those who do not look like him is ubiquitous, thus it extends to mental health. Research over mental health, then, revolves around the white, heterosexual, cisgender male, causing evaluation and treatment methods to often fail when used with anyone other than this male prototype. Without tailored mental health services, those identities already disparaged by society do not have adequate treatment methods, causing their mental health issues to persevere and severely limit their ability to live a happy life.
Intersectionalities of identity and depression will likely remain positively correlated until drastic social and cultural change is made. Whether investments are made to change the trajectory of society and boost cultural investments and minority opinions or we pioneer mental health research into all identities’ unique projections of mental illness, change needs to come. In honor of this Black History Month, I ask for you to ponder the multitude of ways our society is tailored to a single identity and how to change it.