Why You Feel So Goddamned Depressed Right Now
On days like today it’s easy to believe the world is going to shit. One of my friends committed suicide. I’d known he was having a hard time. It’s one of those things you can just see even if they don’t say it. I met Ben way back in like 2003 or 2004 and we had sex almost daily until I moved to LA. If I hadn’t moved we would have certainly got together. He was one of the most beautiful boys I had ever seen—ecstatic for life, tanned, hair sun-bleached from a summer job on Catalina Island. Ben was from a Mormon family as well, and like myself and a lot of Mormon gay boys and girls struggled with self worth and the ability to see value in who we are as a person.
I’m most surprised about his suicide because I had tried to help Ben. So I thought he knew that he could approach me or ask for help when he needed it, but he didn’t. When we are depressed to any degree I think there is something in us that often prevents us from actually telling people about it and asking for help. When I tried to commit suicide I didn’t ask a single person for help beforehand. I didn’t know that I could. Not that I lacked any knowledge of suicide hotlines or that therapists were available. Reaching out was not a skill that I was taught and no one I knew had made themselves available for someone who was struggling. Thankfully I survived my attempt, and it helped me wake up and look for help. Ben didn’t get that luxury.
The picture of the suicide epidemic is never illustrated correctly. If you focus only on the number of completed suicides it doesn’t appear to other people to be that big a problem. But in Utah it has become the number one cause of death in young people. In 2014 in Utah alone 4,574 people were treated for self-inflicted injuries. A government inquiry into the epidemic in 2017 found that 33% of all high school students are sad or depressed and that a full 21% of them had or were seriously contemplating suicide. That is nearly a full quarter of the entire future population.
Aside from all the social confounders of depression and suicide, if we are prone to depression we are most likely to feel this way during the end of winter and advent of springtime. It feels especially heartbreaking because we see the world coming alive and yet feel that for us it is never going to get better. This happens because depression is caused by a lack of hormones which are most strongly stimulated by exposure to sunlight. The longer we go without sun the more intense these feelings become, and even though spring is approaching it is now the longest point you have gone without getting any sunlight and all the vitamin D and vitality that comes with it. This is why some conditions are described as seasonal affective disorder, or that those with serious depression find some relief in vacations or relocating to warmer climes. The sun helps us generate energy and feel well, and until we are able to get sufficient stores of sun-based nutrients back into our bodies we are more likely to descend into dark places.
There are big reasons why Utah is the number one suicide capital in the United States. Being a Northern climate Utahns experience long periods without getting out in the sunlight. Surrounded by mountains which shorten exposure to daylight, it also has some of the worst air pollution in the country due to multiple industrial complexes surrounding its major metropolitan areas and citizens and government leaders unwilling to do anything about it. This pollution not only serves to choke and poison people but also further obscures the already low sunlight during the winter as pollution collects in the deep valleys. If you’ve never been to Salt Lake City in the winter you have no idea what I’m talking about—the sun can literally be almost totally obscured for months at a time due to the pollution and was one of the major reasons why I moved from Utah to LA and, second to the malcontent populace, why I shudder at the idea of moving back. Combine these factors with a confrontational and shame-based culture which causes people to isolate from one another and an unhealthy standard American diet and it’s a wonder that Utah’s suicide rate isn’t actually higher than it is.
This is the one important thing to remember if you have depression and feelings of suicide—it is the result of the culmination of stresses to your life to this point in time, both circumstantial, environmental, and nutritional. The toll to your vitality and lack of sunlight for the past few months makes you more susceptible to stresses such as from family, job, the news, or situations you may find yourself in such as a dearth of friends or money. But these feelings are only the result of this accumulation of health stress and can be easily reversed. Right now you are more susceptible to feelings of depression and suicide because it has been a long winter and your body has not got enough sunlight. So be just a little more patient. Have compassion for yourself and your mortal body. Of course you feel depressed. Anyone else in your situation would as well. Recognize that your emotions are just hormones and metabolic stress and are not truly reflective of who you are nor what your reality can hold for you. When the sun comes around again you will start to feel better, and you can use the coming summer to overhaul your metabolic health. Even though I have lots of things to be depressed about, even more than when I was younger and tried to end my life, I constantly feel happy and grateful for the little I have. I find great pleasure in my life now and remain optimistic even during this state of things and it is not because I changed my attitude, which is still cynical and brooding. It’s because I healed my body.