Villanueva: Depression and economics


THE world we live in nowadays has truly become a paradox of some sort. An individual's world has greatly expanded, but the world, many say, has become smaller. Continuously advancing technology makes it easier for people to communicate with each other wherever they are in the world, but more and more people seem to have become disconnected from the rest of the world.

This disconnectedness leads to a lot of mental health issues like depression, which has become more and more prevalent in many societies around the world, especially in megacities. This time, we talk about another depression, not the depression which is a phase in the business cycle following a recession, where there is very little economic activity (i.e. The Great Depression). We, instead, delve into depression, the mental illness using the perspective of economics.

The number of people diagnosed with depression is on the rise worldwide. This used to be popular in the west, where one out of a certain number of people are diagnosed with depression but the number in Asia has also been steadily rising over the past several years. A friend who works as a nurse in one of the European countries remarked that during the winter the number of suicide cases rise, because apparently, when it is snow that one sees, like a live monochrome video, it triggers depression, and here we are Filipinos dreaming experiencing snow.

Depression is a mental illness characterized by deep melancholic experience. It is not just sadness, because the reason why one is sad can be determined. Unlike depression, more often than not, the trigger is unknown. The person's disposition may shift from very happy to detached and very sad. It is said to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the person's brain.

When this is not treated and/or managed well, an extreme result may be taking one's life or suicide. The depressed person would think that this is the only way that he/she can escape this melancholia which has become unbearable; that one would choose death than enduring this.

Economics is a science of making choices. A question perhaps that may be asked in relation to depression and suicide is that why do people choose to be depressed? Why do people choose to take their own life as a solution to this "problem"?

May I emphasize that it is not a problem. It is an illness, and like any other illness, cough, colds, flu, pneumonia, cancer, etc. No one in his right mind chooses to be sick. No one chooses to be depressed. If given a choice, that person would not even choose to have this illness. However, if one is cursed (or blessed whichever you choose to view it) with this condition, which destiny (or a celestial being) chose for you, there are many opportunity costs (cost of foregoing the next best alternative) for (not) choosing to be depressed.

One opportunity cost is one's social life. Most of the time, a depressed person sleeps all the time, has erratic sleeping habits (not similar to others), and just wants to be alone. The person wants to be detached, disconnected from the rest of the world. And so, one's social life would suffer greatly due to this illness.

Another is a result of the first. Friendships and relationships are damaged. Despite the numerous campaigns on making people aware of this illness, there are still many who refuse to understand and worse, judge. When people say that depression is created by one's imagination, that one just has to shake off that sadness, that it is something one's mind can control because of his intelligence, that one has to attend masses, worship, pray and read the bible so that he or she won't get depressed. Other than these, the worst thing you can say to a depressed person is that he/she is just over-acting.

It is difficult as it is to have this illness, and not be understood, but to judge the person that he is just essentially faking it, is too much. If you have nothing to help, you can just keep all your opinions to yourself.

One more opportunity cost is the ability to live to one's fullest. Despite the many discoveries of science, psychology, etc., living with depression limits one to enjoy life. One thinks that having depression is a burden, a curse, and it is very difficult to function normally. That is why there are many who take their own lives because they cannot bear the pain and misery if they continue living. The difficulty of going to sleep at night hoping that he will not wake up the next morning. However, he still wakes up the next morning, puts on a brave face, and work as if everything is fine, as if one is very happy, even if deep inside he is dying, slowly.

Is it then their choice to take their own lives? Taking one's life is never an option that any normal thinking person would choose. The brain is in overdrive by the illness, the chemical imbalance in the brain. It is the illness taking over the person. It is like a cancer that has metastasized to other parts of the body and it is slowly killing the person from the inside, and the only way out is to take one's life.

And when one eventually does the unthinkable, we all then say, "he was a good person." "I wish I could have helped him, supported him somehow during those times." "I didn't know he was struggling with this disease. I was so busy with my own struggles as well."

And when all is said and done, we can only resign to the fact that another life has gone to waste as a very expensive opportunity cost for refusing to understand and failing to show how much you care or loved the person.


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