What is Depression? — A Metaphorical Look at Enduring Souls and Crushing Weights


The Weight of the World 

To depress something is to push down on it. If you keep it there, the object can be said to exist in a state of depression.

After his involvement in the war with the Olympian gods, Atlas - one of the Titans - was given the punishment of holding up the sky for eternity. Only a fool would mistake Atlas’ immobility, stagnation, and depressed state for weakness. Could they not see that he bore the weight of the whole world on his shoulders? When I see Atlas, the enduring, I see the embodiment of strength. Doomed to bear that weight for eternity, he refused to let it crush him. I wouldn’t blame him if he did. Eternity is, after all, a long time. 

I wonder, if Heracles really did construct pillars to free Atlas, how great it must have felt to be liberated from that weight. Did the world rejoice when they had freed up such a strong titan from his immense load? Anyone who could bear such a weight was surely capable of accomplishing much more now that he was free. 

The Wrong Lens

To live life is to bear a weight. Some weights are taken up voluntarily and others are imposed on us. Some we can bear, while others begin to crush us and, like Atlas, we can become depressed under these weights. 

The cause of the weights we all bear is complex and is unlikely to come down to one factor. Our weights are built up by both biological and environmental factors. Your physiology, your psychology, and your society all intertwine to form the unique load that you carry. 

To view depression through a lens of strength or weakness is meaningless. So many variables contribute to the weight any individual carries and it’s mostly invisible to us. All that we can see, if an individual allows us, is that the weight has become too heavy for them. The question isn’t ,”why can’t you lift that load” but “how can I help you lift it”. Even as Atlas bore the weight of the whole world with his godly strength, he still needed the help of Heracles to be liberated. And, I wonder, how much better the world was for it. 

Why It Matters

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide [2]. Imagine how much human potential we could liberate by taking this collective weight off of the world and helping people bear their loads. 

We’ve come a long way in the fight against depression. 

We’ve gone from a theory of humoural imbalance to one of chemical imbalances which manifested itself in various medicines that have helped lots of people [1]. Neuroscience is gaining a deeper understanding of our brain and even moving past this simplistic model [4]. Future medicinal treatments may prevent the impact of early childhood stress on the brain, or we may treat the cause of anhedonia — which is an inability to feel pleasure —  that depressed individuals often suffer from [3, 4]. 

We’ve gone from a mechanistic or mechanical view of people to a more humane one [1]. Individuals have a unique psychology, and that psychology can be fortified and altered to help them bear the weight of existence. This has manifested itself in different therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which has proven to be very effective at treating depression [2, 5].

As we understand the physiological and psychological processes better, we can structure our society better to help lessen the load we impose on others. We can free people of this immense weight that blocks their full potential, and we will all be better off for it. 

If you feel the weight of your existence bearing down on you, please seek help. Depression is not something that you can just get over. It often requires a detailed look at an individual’s physiology, psychology, and environment, and the solution might require addressing all three. There are teams of experts trained to help lift these loads. It matters that you do it for yourself. You have a unique potential to manifest, and this is just one battle of many that you will go on to win. But, it also matters to the world. Each individual victory is a collective victory, and we will all be better off for it. 

This video was made for YouTube’s Giving Week. If you’d like to help us win the battle against depression please consider donating to the Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation by clicking the new donate button below. Can’t donate? No problem, you can also help us by sharing this video! All ad revenue generated by this video will go towards the Brain and Behaviour Reserach Foundation.

As always, thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time! 


1. Lawlor, Clark. From Melancholia to Prozac: A History of Depression. Oxford University Press, 2012.

2. “Depression.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

3. Nugent, Fereshteh S. “New Clues for Medications to Prevent Disorders Caused by Early-Life Stress.” Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, 14 Nov. 2018, www.bbrfoundation.org/content/new-clues-medications-prevent-disorders-caused-early-life-stress

4. Malenka, Robert C. “Moving Beyond 'Chemical Imbalance' Theory of Depression.” Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, 1 Feb. 2018, www.bbrfoundation.org/content/moving-beyond-chemical-imbalance-theory-depression

5. Burns, David D. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Avon Books, 1980.

psychologyJustin Deol