In honor of National Mental Health Day, let’s take a minute to realize that HUMANS ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO HAVE A ROUGH TIME in this world. Those cute animals you look at on the internet to get you through a shitty day? They might be having a shitty day too.
You have probably looked at an animal and thought, “God, it must be so easy to be you — you who are too dumb and furry to get depressed! Curse you and your naive pleasure with food and poop.” Well, the truth is that animals get sad too. They too walk by every bridge wondering if the height would be sufficient to take them into the Sweet Hereafter or to merely break their legs. They too clutch bottles of sleeping pills late at night and wonder, should I just take the WHOLE THING? OK they don’t do any of that, because they don’t have thumbs or a developed ability to reason about the future, but scientists are coming to believe that animals have the same basic wiring as humans — which means yes, they can wonder what it all means and whether it’s all worth it.When humans are depressed it’s generally because they’re feeling guilty, scared of their mortality, or because they simply have lost interest in generally pleasurable things. Animals can’t communicate, so naturally, you’re not going to hear a dog say, “God, I’m so broken up about chewing up your Prada sweater,” or a cat express anxiety about just how many lives he has left, or (I know these examples are sufficient but this is so entertaining) a platypus whine that it used to be such a kick to poison things with its venomous spurs but the magic is gone. What scientists can do, though, is gauge their facial expressions, see how readily they give up in a stressful situation, and check their level of interest in food or sex. (Though we don’t know that wanting to eat or screw a lot means that anyone or anything is happy. For us it usually means we just don’t feel like doing any work. Anyway. It’s their study.)
One of the problems with the study is that animals in a lab are already bummed out, because living under fluorescent lights and being surrounded by nerds just really sucks. There are very few studies of animals in the wild being depressed, and even if they do end up doing them, well, who knows what good that would do with no available Duane Reades to pick up a Zoloft prescription.