The recent media coverage of the unfortunate Shane Todd incident has highlighted a very real but unconscious and harmful stereotype of depression and its sufferers.
As I combed through the many articles online, I noticed that while each article had differing nuggets of information, ranging from the Todd family’s expert witness having a southern drawl to Mrs Todd calling the Singapore judicial system corrupt, all the articles have been consistent is reporting that Shane Todd suffered from depression.
While seemingly innocuous, the implication is obvious – that because he suffered from depression, there is a high chance that he did indeed commit suicide. This subtly framed assertion has far reaching consequences. Not only does it perpetuate ignorance, it further stigmatises a valid medical condition that requires due care.
Depression is caused by a multitude of factors with differing levels of severity and effects. By generalising it, however innocently, as the media has done, simplifies the condition and does a great disservice to the great number of medical professionals, researchers and volunteers who have invested their time and energies to improve the plight of depression sufferers. Most of all, it trivialises the struggles that its sufferers go through.
In varying degrees, depression sufferers go through lack of motivation, self loathing, aversion to activity, hopelessness and the list goes on. What must be made clear however is that not every sufferer is prone to suicide! (source) Millions of people world wide live with depression without necessarily wanting to end their lives!
Only God knows whether or not Shane Todd committed suicide and I am not about to speculate. Both sides have expert witnesses that have contradicted each other. However, the fact that he had suffered from depression does not immediately lead to a forgone conclusion that he killed himself. Even his psychiatrist was unable to say that Shane Todd harboured suicidal thoughts! (source)
Not only is depression readily treated nowadays with modern antidepressant medication and short-term, goal-orientated psychotherapy, it is also uncannily common!
Given that there are so many silent sufferers among us, we should be mindful not to make it an even greater taboo in society than it already is! The media has to be responsible and should not be making links between suicide and depression so flippantly! I am sure it was not meant to cause offence but be that as it may, we still have to be alive to these issues. A good start would be to develop understanding for this illness. Understanding comes from education and awareness, both of which the media can play a meaningful part in.
As of 2004, approximately 5% of Singaporeans suffer from depression (source). These are just the figures we know of and the actual number could very well be much greater. We can also pretty safely assume that in the last 10 years, the numbers would have increased. It is thus a genuine cause for concern and prejudices cannot afford to be preserved through ignorance.
I do not profess to be an expert on depression but I do think that this is an issue that affects many people in Singapore. As such, the more accurate information out there for public consumption, the better. Statements that reinforce existing stereotypes and taboos should be eradicated as far as possible. Statements, especially those made by the media should be made with responsibility and greater thought.
Depression is an illness. Its sufferers require support. Many of its sufferers who do end up committing suicide do so not just because of the disease but because of a lack of support and treatment!