Monday, 8 April 2013

Not Depressed Enough

A Note on Depression

On taking a medical leave from my studies for depression, I had the unpleasant and bizarre experience of trying to prove that I was mentally ill. To an extent the process felt like it might have been more of a formality than an actual determinant in whether or not I got my medical leave, but it still had a strange psychological effect on me. I had a number of appointments with representatives from different institutions in the university, including Health Services, Counselling, and Access & Diversity, and the purpose of these appointments was both to seek professional help overcoming my depression and to secure documentation to support my medical leave.  In other words, I was not just trying to get help from these organizations, but convince them that I had depression debilitating enough to warrant leave.

During this process I was highly conscious of the fact that the process is in place to prevent people from getting leave fraudulently in order to avoid the consequences of poor academic performance. I was aware that someone who, like me, was appealing to the doctors, counselors, etc. for documentation could be faking depression. So I worried about how to perform my depression persuasively. How do you prove that you have a mental illness? How do you show that you actually have an illness and you are not simply repeating the common symptoms of that illness for cynical ends? While I assume it would be difficult to fake it for long, I do not know that I spent enough time talking with those professionals for them to be really sure.

The epistemological problem of identifying real from false mental illness is not my main concern, however. Maybe because I also have anxiety issues, I became worried that I was not sufficiently depressed to warrant medical leave. While I was applying for leave I felt some of the secondary symptoms of depression (poor memory, poor concentration, low motivation, disrupted sleep, lethargy) very strongly, but I did not feel especially sad or melancholy. It became an issue not just of trying to prove to the officials that I was sufficiently depressed, but also an issue of satisfying myself that I was depressed enough to warrant a medical leave. I certainly did not feel up to doing much at all, but days would go by in which I was not particularly unhappy. If the weather was nice, I might feel positively enthusiastic. Even I was unsure of whether my inactivity was a moral defect (laziness) or a psychological one (the decrease in motivation and concentration consistent with depression). Whenever I felt happy for too long (ie. a few hours), I would begin to feel worried and guilty, as though I was committing the fraud I was trying to prove I was not committing.

As it turns out, I got the medical leave and my mood decreased dramatically in the next few weeks. What troubles me is that I was relieved about both events. Of course I should be relieved about getting leave, but it is probably detrimental to my well-being to feel that I should or must be unhappy or hopeless. Obviously the university's requirement that I document my depression is not entirely responsible for my worry that I was not sufficiently depressed, but it does feel like something a depressed person should not have to deal with. I'm not sure how to fix the system, but it is troubling.

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