Is my depression individual or political?
—Depressed or Oppressed
Let’s not draw too sharp a distinction. Life under capitalism can be a profound bummer!
British psychotherapist Andrew Samuels explained to me via e-mail that “alongside the usual suspects like parents and trauma,” some therapists do think that the social and political world shapes our inner lives.
Take environment degradation. Dr. Samuels says depression is often caused by feeling guilt when we hurt someone we love. We love the planet, and as we’re bombarded with images of its imminent demise—dying polar bears, mass migration, catastrophic oil spills—we may take upon ourselves the responsibility for having damaged it. Neoliberal environmental ideology pins responsibility on us as individuals who should be using locally fermented lip balm, rather than on the CEO of Exxon. This doesn’t help.
But depression also has roots in your particular psyche: How do you handle anger, Depressed? Dr. Harriet Fraad, one of the few Marxist psychoanalysts currently in clinical practice, told me by phone that “depression is anger unexpressed.” Following the news makes you mad. That is good; you are not a selfish asshole. But instead of turning that anger inward on yourself, Dr. Fraad urges you to turn it outward, toward the bad guys, through political engagement. Though the state of the world is depressing, she says, “fighting it is not depressing. It offers hope and connects us to others who feel the same way.” She emphasizes that “the basis of mental health is connection.”
You probably can’t fix serious clinical depression simply by joining the Portland bridge hangers—please do also try whatever combination of talk therapy, drugs, and exercise is right for you—but the research does suggest that political participation boosts well-being, especially for women inclined to psychic distress. It can even help offset some of the mental-health risks of being part of an oppressed group; probably because, following Dr. Fraad, we (women, the poor, people of color, and the working class) have even more things to be angry about.
My roommate is a slob, and I don’t like cleaning up after him. The problem is, neither does he. When I suggested splitting a cleaning service, he told me the ones I researched—worker cooperatives with good labor practices—were too expensive. Then, without asking me, he used Handy.com, a cheap start-up, before I could ask him to cancel. How should I handle this situation?
—Resident, Pigpen or Sweatshop