Why Are NYC-ers Depressed and What Can Be Done About It?

I’ve got news for you, NYC: You’re depressed. At least that’s whata recent study by the New York City Health department reported; yep, one in five of you suffer from depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or “a similar mental health disorder.”

Look, I’ve lived in New York twice — once after college, for a mere six months, and then from 2007 to 2010. The post-college jaunt involved living in a railroad-style apartment and coming back from Thanksgiving break to discover that my roommate had moved out, along with all our furniture. When I decided to move back more than a decade later, I figured I hadn’t liked living there before because of those shitty circumstances. And everything, during attempt number two, started off great; it was a gorgeous fall and circumstances unfolded so perfectly that I could practically hear sitcom music playing beside me as I strolled. Three years later — after the collapse of our global financial system as well as the unraveling of the publishing business, countless snowstorms and hundreds of nights of coming home on the subway at midnight, surrounded by drunk people, and making the slog from the train stop in 20 degree weather — I made a decision: I just couldn’t make it there. (The truth? I have no desire to be in a city that never sleeps.)

Location, Location, Location

Despite the fact that the sad New Yorker stat is far above the national average, New Yorkers, of course, haven’t cornered the market on depression. Trust me when I say that living in LA — or any place where you’re not fighting the elements and the economy at every turn — is no depression panacea. But take a place that is, on a good day, challenging to live in when you’re not raking in the bucks and offers few opportunities to explore nature, then combine that with the prevalence of Seasonal Affective Disorder and you’ve got some sad folks.

Of course, depression — like alcoholism — is something that can be treated, with everything from therapy to medication to meditation. But, the same study reports, less than 40 percent of the depressed population there seeks help. Is it because the dour mood is so common that people aren’t thinking the way they feel is unusual? Or is it because of the age-old stigma against mental health issues?

The S Word

Whenever tragedy related to gun violence strikes, there’s an inevitable dialogue about mental health. It is, of course, an important conversation to be having. The question is this: Does talking about the mental health of terrorists and other shooters discourage those suffering from regular old depression from coming forward because it makes them all the more ashamed of their condition? A recent HuffPost story reported that at least half of the American public believes that mentally-ill folk are inherently more violent. When are people going to understand that mental illness does not make people commit violent acts? Being a violent person makes people commit violent acts.

While there are all sorts of rallies and gatherings and efforts designed to combat the stigma around mental health and addiction, progress can really only be made by continuing to bring these issues up, whether there’s a rally going on or not, until there’s more societal awareness. If we can change the way we look at people transitioning from one gender to another, surely we can alter the perception around issues that can save people’s lives.

So Where Are The Happy People?

Long ago, I heard that the happiest people live in Laredo, Texas (all I could find just now when I looked for this fact was a rather dubious-looking 2005 post that rated it an A+ and put it first on a list). But let’s be clear: Happiness isn’t something you get by moving anywhere (anyone who’s “pulled a geographic” can surely back me up here). Sure, there’s object-referral happiness, where circumstances are exactly the way we want them to be (if you’re someone who can maintain that, pretty please teach me your secret) but the other kind — what’s known as self-referral happiness — is the only one that can stay with you even in the midst of a New York winter.