Depressed But Happy? / Francis Sanchez

Photo by Francis Sanchez

Francis Sanchez, 29 March 2017 – Cuba is the country with the second highest levels of depression in Latin America, exceeded only by Brazil. The statistics appear in a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) released in Geneva. From this report, paradoxically, this data is omitted by Cuban publications that otherwise echo the report.

The state discourse may not know how to handle this data, along with another which places us among the countries with the highest suicide rates. But, are depression and suicide not, in general terms, typical disorders of developed societies? As is the aging of the population. Why, then, aren’t our rates of depression, anxiety and suicides considered, as is increasing old age, as national achievements?

Surely we Cubans are not depressed, nor do we suffer anxiety, for the same reasons as Brazilians, Swedes or Japanese. We run little risk of addiction to work. Rather, it is the complete opposite. Our work places are a façade to “mark time” and “resolve things under the table.” A very true and repeated axiom is: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

Not having work to do, does not mean that we are exposed to leisure (good for enjoying extreme activities such as family vacations or lying on the couch of a psychoanalyst). We live day by day “struggling” for sustenance.

Although our war is so asymptomatic that it does not deprive us of the luxuries of sadness and the abysses of madness. In catastrophes, it is often the case that the effort to breathe increases (during wars, when fewer people commit suicide). Countries of Central America, where the gangs swarm and great atrocities are committed, show more satisfactory rates of depression.

Despite the regrets, we must have some self-imposed sources of frustration. The truth is that we are taken for the cliché of the tropical couple with the smile from ear to ear and the pair of maracas. Might this have something to do with the permanent state of pretending? With the naturalized and institutionalized lies?

Between immobility, lack of economic and political opportunity on the one hand, and the state’s chauvinistic and triumphalist discourse on the other, there are few reasons for hope. Our everyday problems, even if they are the same as those inherent in life in any other country, may be swallowed by us in a special and not recommended way. Never forget that we have been the only people of this hemisphere politically and ideologically converted into a “mass.” By discarding the individual will, even the masks were eliminated from our carnivals.

Many want to assign us the role of the most amusing. Besides those in power, as expected, including the Latin American peoples, their academics, their social leaders who manage to constantly mobilize people if they so much as raise the price of transport by a single peseta, they say that they envy us, and they ask us to continue resisting.

But lately, for some years now, I have noticed that political jokes are no longer whispered in the streets as they were, for example, in the Special Period. After many turns of life or history, and a lack of imagination to visualize the future, maybe everyone already knows the end and no one is amused?

I remember that in the worst years of the 1990s we laughed at the hunger, the blackouts, there were parodies on the quota of two hamburgers for each identity card, at the infinite marches, etc. Then came the anecdote of how, on a billboard, under a slogan that adorned streets and roads (“We are happy here”), a daring soul wrote at night: “Imagine out there.” The story included the curiosity that, at dawn, even the policemen could not stop laughing.