Depression, Anxiety and Stress Are Not All On You

This was not the post I was going to write today but it is the post I want to write after checking my e-mails from work, which I hadn’t checked since last Thursday, the day I told anyone who wanted to hear that I can’t keep doing what I do (academic research) the way I am right now: mentally and physically burned out. On that same day, however, I got an e-mail asking/requesting whether I would be happy to submit and prepare an abstract for the very following day (Friday). Of course, I missed that e-mail because I gave myself a break to recover from a 24h commute without sleep and a night at Gatwick’s airport. Two working days later, I got another e-mail, reminding me of the same subject. Both e-mails were filled with careful words, but I could still feel that subjective in-built pressure I find over and over again in academia — it matters very little that you are humanly unfit to use your brain.

I used to like my research work and I used to be inspired by the idea that I could do a positive contribution to the world of work by showing, for instances, that a positive and receptive organisational culture leads to less prejudice and discrimination at work, but I became so disenchanted that today I don’t get any dose of happiness from the hypothesis of going back to conferences to present my findings. That actually saddens me — not being able to be happy about something that I once saw intrinsic value in. In fact, I ran out of joy and inspiration as a consequence of being exposed to long periods of stress, uncertainty, and social isolation, among other important variables that Johann Hari speaks about on his latest book “Lost Connections”.

You are not mentally ill just because you are depressed, anxious, or stressed. Stress, anxiety, and depression are just symptoms of a deeper problem that we, society as a whole, need to rethink.

Over the last couple of days and weeks, I haven’t been able to do much more than sleep, eat, and read while I recover from my ever-present exhaustion, so I am allowing myself to enjoy Johann’s book with the hope that it will inspire the next step of my journey as a wellbeing activist. This is a book about depression, anxiety, and how mental health/illness needs to be revisited, something I have been constantly talking about for the last 10 years but that no one really seemed to listen to or find reason. To be honest, this book is thus far my new “bible” because it is everything I have wished to say as a psychologist, as an employee, and as a human being. You are not mentally ill just because you are depressed, anxious, or stressed, andthe argument that such experiences are solely due to a chemically “unbalanced brain” is nothing more than a profitable lie which pharmaceutical industry and well-paid scientists keep telling us. That’s another reason why I became disenchanted about the work I do; more often than not I see money being incorrectly spent and data-driven stories being severely edited so they can lead to more and bigger research grants which, in turn, secure the employment of a few “privileged” people.

The lie about antidepressants, for instances, is just one costly example of how a lie can become a “false truth” and worldwide spread. Today many people blindly attach themselves to the story of being mentally ill when the collective is the one that is rotten. We are still fixated on the story that we only need to swallow higher and higher doses of antidepressants to make us feel better when these don’t actually solve our problem. While reading Johann’s book I remembered a quote commonly attributed to Freud. It says the following:

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not surrounded by idiots.


I don’t know whether Freud actually said or wrote such thing, but I find much wisdom in this sentence. We, the people, psychologists and other mental health professionals, have been trained to think about depression, anxiety and stress as an individual problem, a malfunction in the brain, a physiological imbalance, a plague to be eradicated. I never liked that approach and my soul always rebelled against it. I always felt there had to be something more about it and Johann Hari managed to bring to the surface all the dirt my fellow colleagues (and I) have been trying to dismiss or choose not to be aware of.

I feel personally empowered by Johann’s book, both as a human being and as a psychologist who never accepted the disease model and who is now struggling with depression and anxiety herself. After all, Freud might have nailed it well: more often than not, depression emerges from the fact that we have been socially programmed to think that it is not ok to think, feel, and behave differently. From a very young age, we start to assume that our dreams and aspirations are incompatible with the social standards we are raised in and thus we “must be abnormal”. We assume it is unacceptable to pursuit a career as a writer because “that doesn’t pay bills” and we assume we have to accept inhuman workplace cultures because “that’s life”. I’m here to tell you, nonetheless, that we are not abnormal. We are actually pretty functional and we are merely responding to a dysfunctional environment (e.g. political corruption, consumerism, unethical workplaces) the best we can. Stress, anxiety, and depression are just symptoms of a deeper problem that we, society as a whole, need to rethink.

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  1. I love your yellow-mustard shoes! The book sounds like a great read. 🙂 I remember the days when I worked at a pharmacy as a cashier. Being behind the counter, I learned how sales mattered. During flu season, there was this competition between stores to get a lot of sales for flu shots. I started seeing how the pharmacy and the companies made money from their sales, and how the customer was just another number.

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  2. I am currently reading the same book and it has completely changed my views on mental health and, honestly, my entire outlook on things. It’s made me realise things that I didn’t think we’re having that much of an impact on me, are actually part of why I have been diagnosed with anxiety. It’s cleared so many things up and I wish more people would read this book! x

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  3. I totally relate with the burn out thing and am constantly having to work on myself to try and stay out of depression and anxiety. Thankfully it comes and goes and is never long term – a lot of the time I just accept that I’m feeling that way knowing it will pass and it usually does. I feel that since anxiety and depression is an epidemic these days that it’s society and the way we are living – so many things contributing to that – high expenses for everything – medical, vehicles, rent, food – many people can barely survive even with 2 jobs in the family. If you’re single, it’s a huge challenge to find a partner with integrity, the list goes on. It all can feel like one big struggle to survive with only little bits and pieces of joy and peace. But I’m bound and determined to not give up. I’ve learned a lot along the way, like letting it pass, slowing down and being in the now, etc. But I still feel society is a huge challenge. We need things to be more simple. I hope you are feeling better and I appreciate that you are so real in your posts. If you ever need anyone to talk to, I’m here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You said it all ☺️ Sometimes we even get anxious and stressed because we’re being exposed to others’ unnecessary stress. Snowball effect. I think what you said is a good way to go, to tell ourselves it’s going to pass. I’ve been trying to do that when emptiness comes suddenly without a warning or when I start feeling anxious because I didn’t sit down to write a bit more of my thesis. Being a bit artsy and letting myself daydream about what I really want to do with my life has done a lot of good too, but I do have a lot to recover in terms of energy, functioning, and physical fitness. Thankfully, there is a lot more sunlight in Lisbon than in the UK, and I live away from the city now. Some days I just smile, as if saying “I survived”. Like I read in someone’s bio one of these days, we are “left-handed people in a right-handed world” and that’s tough. Thank you for being here 😊🤗

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  4. Stress is something where either we’re too much filled up or we’re too empty to do something. It’s a feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure and everyone has their own ways to get rid of stress.
    One may not be in the mood to meditate during stress as our thoughts are racing though meditation is one of the best ways to reduce stress. One also may at times face relationship-stress where breathing exercises is not the solution but breathing exercises is again the ideal ways to take out stress; communicating with your partner is what will get a solution in such a situation.
    I’ve just done a post on how to get rid of stress. Do take a look and let me know what you feel:


  5. I completely agree with this post, there are so much more factors that contribute to depression and anxiety than just a ‘chemical imbalance’. I think economic deprivation plays a huge role in mental health. Thank you for this post, very interesting, will have to check out the book!


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