Although we talk a lot about the risks of drug use at dance parties and festivals, do we address the mental health issues among party going young people as well? Read the article of two Serbian outreach workers from the NGO ReGeneration!
There are a number of reasons to talk about the relationship between clubbing and mental health among the youth of Serbia. In the last few years, clubbing has become one of the dominant subcultures among youth in Serbia. There are more and more clubs, festivals, and big rave parties being organised. Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is being promoted as one of the best cities for nightlife in Europe. On the other hand, depression is a mental disorder increasing worldwide and now is the leading cause of global mental and physical disability, according to data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In Serbia, the stigma of depression and other mental disorders is still widespread. Depression is a disorder manifested through mood changes, apathy, slowness, sadness, indeed it has many faces, so sometimes it is not easy to recognise it. One of the forms that it can take is when a depressed person seems functional, happy, euphoric, and in a good mood, which is totally opposed to a regular idea of depression. This is because depressed people often hide their problems. When partying, most of the people look exactly like that – everyone is having a good time, they seem so happy and relaxed, so it makes sense that we don’t always notice the symptoms of depression.
The reason why a lot of young people go to clubs, is that they want to have fun and have a good time. When we are with friends, we feel good and satisfied, but when the party ends, a lot of people want to have more fun. When we do things we like, we often desire for more, and if our expectations aren’t fulfilled, we could feel unsatisfied and empty. That brings us to the other most common motive for going out to clubs and parties – the escape from reality, or escapism. The club environment is a place where everyone is happy, where we can relax and even for a moment forget the problems that we have in our home, family, relationships, or work. The trouble is that many people just sweep their problems under the carpet, and when they realise that these problems have accumulated and not gone away, they are not sure how to deal with them.
Psychoactive substances are also a part of the equation. First, we should bear in mind that alcohol is also a psychoactive substance, even though it is legal and socially acceptable. From their teenage days and first disappointments in romantic relationships, Serbian youth tend to go out and get drunk in order to get over their problems. Serbian turbo-folk music glorifies this kind of behaviour. Even people who don’t use either legal or illegal psychoactive substances, feel dejected, tired, and sad after the party. After using drugs, especially stimulants, the feeling of apathy is even stronger. Club drugs are the most commonly used in Serbia, according to research that the NGO Re Generation conducted in 2014. Club drugs are ecstasy, amphetamine or speed, MDMA, and cocaine. They evoke feelings of interconnection, happiness, and pleasure, and during their influence serotonin levels are increased. The problem with club drugs is that after their effects, people feel empty and depressed, exactly because the serotonin levels are lower and exhausted and that might be a reason why people feel unsatisfied the next day.
Yet everything depends on the individual. We can’t say that there is “a type of person” who suffers from depression more than others. If you notice any symptoms, such as apathy, hopelessness, emptiness, reduced interest in activities, or mood swings, it is important to ask for help and go to a psychologist or psychiatrist. The attitude of “it will pass with time“ is the worst option, because the problems will only accumulate. Also, capitalism as the dominant socio-economic system provokes insecurity, fear, and anxiety, so we can say that global changes such as economic crises can influence the increase of depression. Post-socialist capitalism is the type of capitalism that takes place in Serbia, with a high level of corruption and unemployment, low wages, strong consumerism, but with some elements of a socialist moral economy. This context is very confusing for young people, who generally have doubts about a better future in Serbia. Hence, depression could manifest in many forms, in many different groups of people, but it is the disease of a contemporary (post-socialist, in the case of Serbia) capitalist era.
The biggest challenge for the mental health of clubbers is stigma. It is a fear that somebody will call you a “nutshell“, a “junkie“, a “cissy“ or say that you’re “just making up your problems”. The most difficult thing is to admit that there is a problem. Often, clubbers believe that they are unhappy just because they aren’t “high” anymore (which is partially true, as we already said when we wrote about serotonin levels) and they just wait for the next weekend to go out and to “be happy“ again, and so they ignore the developing depression. Psychoactive substances (including alcohol) affect mental health and evoke changes in mind and body, so clubbers should be very careful with how they consume them. Even those clubbers who don’t use illegal psychoactive substances can develop the symptoms of depression, because consciously or subconsciously they want to feel the euphoria which they feel in clubs or festivals. It is a challenge also for those who are already unstable, prone to mood swings and uncontrollable impulsiveness. Consuming the substances can put them into mannered states of happiness, chaotic-ness, or superiority, and these altered states can consequently lead to anxiety, chronic tiredness, apathy, and later to bipolar affective disorder. In other words, mood alterations with periods of both sadness, hopelessness, and apathy, and happiness, euphoria, heightened energy, aggression, and impulsivity. That can also be sign of the first, initial depressive episode.
But there are ways to tackle this issue. There are ways to prevent more complicated states. We should talk openly with friends, family, and partners and tell them how we feel. If their help is not enough, we need to find a psychologist, who can actually treat and the depression using conversation and therapy. When it comes to clubs and organisers, they must provide to clubbers a sense of security, tap water, soap, ventilation, enough space, and clean toilets. These conditions won’t cure the depression, of course, but they are a part of harm reduction. Harm reduction programs in nightlife settings, including providing information, youth education, and psychosocial support, are truly helpful to people in nightlife settings, giving them a better sense of security and care. On the harm reduction scene, there is a lack of programs which specifically target post-party and post-festival emotional and mental difficulties. Understanding the need for it, NGO RE Generation is eager to develop one, exactly because the return to everyday life is not as cheerful as a party or a festival, at least in Serbia.
Teodora Jovanović and Vladana Stepanović
NGO Re Generation