I love watching kids play in the park. I was sitting on a bench today in a park watching a father play with his toddler son on the playground. The youngster fearlessly climbed the playground to seek adventure.
As I watched kids play I reflected on how happy kids are. Adults, I have observed, often struggle to be happy. The world’s funniest man Robin Williams died of suicide possibly from depression at age 63. Today, I want to discuss possible causes of depression. I’m not a clinical psychologist, so these are just my observations and hypotheses. During my Bachelor of Science degree studies at UBC I nearly took enough credits to have a minor in psychology. I love psychology, and I read books, blogs, and articles. My dad, with a Master of Social Work degree from Hong Kong University, has been a psychiatric social worker at Riverview Hospital for over 20 years, and he has many interesting psychology books on his bookshelf.
I don’t believe any one factor leads a person to depression. I believe it’s a myriad of reasons spread out over a long period of time that leads a person down that road. You rarely hear children having depression. What differences between a child’s life and an adult’s life causes the latter to be susceptible to depression? I can think of many reasons, today I’ll discuss a few to prompt thinking, so that things may change for the better. You can’t change something you’re not aware of. Once you’re aware of a problem symptom, there is a possibility it will change for the better. The following are not in any particular order and are some random thoughts I have as to why adults are less happy than children, and why adults are susceptible to depression and mental illness.
1) Problem #1: Lack of being lovingly touched
Children are lovingly touched often: by their parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, their siblings, other children, and so on. Ask yourself as an adult how often are you touched by another human being? The answer for most people are: “very rarely”, perhaps unless you’re newly married and still passionately in love. But that state doesn’t effortlessly last forever unless you intentionally work on your marriage.
Adults: I read an article that many adults are rarely touched by others, but have the craving to be touched. There have been scientific studies that show baby animals that are separated from its mother and not touched have a higher mortality rate. Baby animals that are nurtured by its mother have a much higher chance of survival. Touch is a basic need in both humans and animals.
What does this imply? Best selling author Gary Chapman discusses in “The Five Love Languages” that physical touch is a primary love language. A few years ago there was a “Free Hugs” Campaign that many people enjoyed. Why was the “Free Hugs” Campaign so successful? Part of the reason I believe is that all human beings long to be touched lovingly.
How to improve: Give love and receive love freely. Touch with appropriateness to the relationship.
2) Problem #2: Not being yourself; Always trying to please others
“Simply be yourself” is easier said than done. Children have no problem being themselves. They cry if they’re sad. They laugh when they’re happy. They tell you if they don’t like something and make a face. Children don’t know how to lie and don’t put on a fake mask everyday to “please other people”. Children are just being themselves.
Adults, on the other hand, often have trouble being themselves. Ask people, “How are you?” 99% of the time they’ll answer: “Fine, thank you.” Adults have been socially programmed to display externally that everything is fine even though they can be hurting inside. Their boss or aggressive colleagues step on them and they have no courage to be assertive. Adults put up with unhealthy relationships because they want to be loved. They may be stuck in a job they hate. Not being themselves for days, months, or years can be tiring, and can drive people insane.
How to improve: Be yourself. I know it’s easier said than done and even I have difficulty doing this sometimes, but I’m getting better at it. Let people see the genuine you, and you’ll attract genuine friends. People who leave you when they see who you really are may not have been your true friends in the first place. People who love you will love you for who you really are.
3) Problem #3: Taking on more responsibilities than you can handle
We live in a workaholic generation. People around the world are working longer hours than previous generations. Many people work themselves to depression and death, literally. It’s important to notice these things and make changes before they get out of hand.
How to improve: Often times, it is possible to relax your schedule. You control your schedule, don’t let it control you. It may mean making tough choices to give up control on certain things. Stay out of things that don’t require your immediate attention. Learn to delegate – it may help you maintain sanity. Learn to say “NO!”
4) Problem #4: Not taking responsibility; Playing the blame game
It’s so easy to blame our stressful lives on a stressful job. It’s socially acceptable; but it ignores the underlying implications of a person who is possibly not taking responsibility for his or her own life. Stress may be caused by the lack of ability to make decisions.
How to improve: Stop blaming external factors and take responsibility for what you can do. Don’t try to change what you cannot control. Change what you can control. That often involves breaking bad habits.
5) Problem #5: Not achieving Self-Actualization (Not fulfilling your calling)
Anyone who has taken an introductory course in psychology has heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The first four levels of the pyramid consists of physiological needs like food & shelter, security, love/belonging, and at the top is Self-Actualization. [Disclaimer: I’m oversimplifying Maslow’s theory so that this post won’t be too long.]
Today’s generation doesn’t have much problem attaining the first four levels due to our materially-rich world, but attaining Self-Actualization is a challenge for many. Each person was born with unique gifts and passions. Your gifts and passions are different from mine, so if I try to imitate you it would be futile and a waste of time as that’s not my calling. So many people aim for “success” as defined by the corporate world that they lose sight of who they are themselves on the inside and what’s important to them. They chase after worldly things such as money, power, and fame.
How to improve: Take an inventory of your life. What do you enjoy doing? Perhaps you should build your career around that. When you’re achieving what your calling is, you may attain Self-Actualization.
6) Concluding remarks
I wrote this article to stimulate thinking in my readers. Mental illness is not something to be taken lightly like we saw with Robin Williams. You can’t just think happy thoughts to cure yourself. If you see symptoms in your life, make changes and get help ASAP. Don’t let it become full-fledged depression because by then, it will be very hard to get out of it. Yes, we live in stressful times, but there are many things we can do about it, such as the items discussed above.
The real question is: are we willing and do we have the courage?