Warning: With this topic, I write rather honestly and personally on thoughts involving Depression, and as such, makes for a longer, more emotion-driven post. It shouldn’t be anything too heavy, but if that’s not your thing, just wanted to give you a heads up!
Okay, so, Orange.
Kakeru, the central focus of Orange’s plot, spoke to me a lot. His depression was depicted in a very real, tough way, that I know resonated with many other people as well.
It’s a great anime, that tackles a tough topic- Depression- but does it do it well? How accurate is it to real life, and is there truly something to be learned from it? Well. That’s what I’d like to talk about today- clinically, psychologically speaking, does Kakeru’s depression in Orange hold any weight? And what, exactly, can we learn about real-life depression from this example?
This is going to be a bit of rough, long topic, so strap yourself in- let’s get to it!
What is Depression?
People can always say, “man, I’m so sad, I’m so depressed,” but really, what is it? What really “is” depression?
As a general rule of thumb in the psych world, (at least from what I know of it) diagnosing people with disorders is something that should not be done lightly. It’s easy for healthy people dealing with tough emotions to think they are depressed, when honestly, they have the strength to get through it. Also, such specific diagnoses carry with them certain consequences- health insurance, employment, other such official areas of life are affected.
Because of this, there are criteria that are looked out for in diagnosing psychological disorders, criteria that can both point to more biological, clinical depression, and also be helpful to a casual observer as well. These criteria can be found in a handbook called the Diagnostic and Statisctical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, or the DSM for short.
Depression in particular has nine symptoms, five out of which have to be seen every day for years to be considered “Major Depressive Disorder.” Anything shorter is generally classified as a “Major Depressive Episode.” For the sake of simplicity, straight from the DSM-V, I’ve copied and pasted the symptoms of such depression below:
- Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
- Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day.
- Significant weight change (5%) or change in appetite.
- Change in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia.
- Change in activity: Psychomotor agitation or retardation.
- Fatigue or loss of energy.
- Guilt/worthlessness: Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
- Concentration: diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness.
- Suicidality: Thoughts of death or suicide, or has suicide plan.
With all this in mind, there are indeed models that plot out how exactly one can arrive at that point. The one in particular that I’d like to note is Beck’s Cognitive Model of Depression.
Basically, early experiences lead to the formation of unhealthy beliefs, which are only confirmed by specific incidents. These confirmed, “activated” beliefs then lead to negative thoughts, which are shown and expressed in the symptoms of depression mentioned above. At this point, these thoughts and symptoms feed off of each other, a perpetual loop that keeps one stuck in Depression.
All that being said, treating Depression can be done in multiple ways. Of course, we can rely on anti-depressants, therapy, or even Electroconvulsive treatments, but for Kakeru’s purposes, we’ll be talking about more natural methods of treatment. Among these treatments, are more simple actions, such as exercise, taking up responsibilities, and simply having fun. Eating healthy, setting routines, and of course, having support from friends are all important as well.
Involving Kakeru, first and foremost, we have to consider that the story of Orange is only one possibility- that it is not the future where Kakeru dies. There is a whole other world where Kakeru’s friends are completely unable to save him- they didn’t even know what he was going through at all, in fact. So, in diagnosing Kakeru, we will use this timeline- the worst possible outcome.
Let’s start from the beginning- Kakeru, a third year transfer student, transfers into class in April, with Naho and her friends. He gets a call from his mother, but turns her down to hang out with his prospective new friends. However, this is too much for his mom, causing her to commit suicide, and causing Kakeru to be absent from school for a while.
When he returns, it looks like he’s alright. He starts hanging around with his new friends, but he doesn’t start doing things on his own accord. Despite being good at soccer, he doesn’t join the soccer club, he doesn’t open up much at all, and when he participates in the school track meet, he trips, and essentially his class the meet. Come Valentine’s Day, he discovers that his mother actually was abused by his father- a fact that only made him feel more guilty, responsible for her suicide. Riding out on his bike, he rode off into the night, eventually running into the path of a truck and ending his life.
It is a tragic story, absolutely. But in this story, we see several trademarks of standard depression. We see that he has decreased interest in activities he likes, as well as, a general lack of concentration. When he doesn’t talk to people, it is clear he is a bit diluted, and from a situation he is in, where he doesn’t know what to do about being in a certain relationship, we know that he can be indecisive. We also know, perhaps most clearly, that he often had suicidal thoughts, and of course, he was hugely burdened with guilt over the death of his mother.
All things considered, I think the diagnosis is rather clear- he had a Major Depressive Episode, triggered by his mother’s death, which, in the bad timeline, lasts from late April till Valentine’s Day. By Beck’s Cognitive Model, we can also see that his negative beliefs were confirmed- his guilt towards his mother, thoughts that he should act better towards her, were all confirmed by her suicide. Basically, Orange was able to depict depression rather accurately, hitting five of the nine major symptoms, and depicting his family as dysfunctional to boot. Now that we know this, what symptoms he had, what signs, how were Naho and her friends able to stop it?
Saving Kakeru: How To Respond To Depression
In the “good” timeline, the one where Kakeru is indeed saved, we see that the letters from Naho’s future self seem to address very specific events. “Don’t invite him, just this once.” “Make sure you participate in the softball game.” These instructions are extremely specific, and there’s a reason for that- at least, at first. As time goes on, these specific instructions lose their merit, as companionship grows, and the most important steps involve simply being there for Kakeru. To build up to that, I believe that the initial instructions either target specific symptoms of Kakeru’s depression, or adhere to common advice for helping someone who has depression.
Take for example, Naho’s specific advice to try and keep Kakeru on the football club. This would accomplish two things for Kakeru, on top of being just plain healthy to keep exercising. First of all, it would give him a responsibility to keep track of, helping to give some sort of feeling of significance, and second, it would give him a reason to exercise his mastery over something, potentially increasing self-esteem. On top of this, early instructions reveal that Naho wants her past self to continue making bento boxes for Kakeru, knowing that he doesn’t place a huge priority in eating all of the time. This shows companionship, and grows friendship, yes, but it also addresses yet another potential depressive symptom- change in appetite.
After this, however, a shift happens. Rather than being able to do things for Kakeru, the focus moves to learning more about him, and how he reacts to Naho and Suwa’s attempts to do so.
Naho starts to learn more about Kakeru’s struggles, not knowing what to say when he admits his feelings about his mother, and not saying the right thing when Kakeru tries to confide in her on New Years. These moments focus more on relationships- being there for Kakeru. This simple idea, of “being there” for someone, despite sounding cliche, is hugely important, especially for someone who feels guilt and worthlessness.
In Kakeru’s bad timeline, he tries confessing his feelings to his old friends, who dismiss them as a joke, unable to take them seriously. This invalidates his depressed feelings, further isolates him, and almost justifies his own guilt. It’s why Naho, Suwa, and the rest of the gang being there for Kakeru is so, so important. His feelings are validated. They say, YES something’s wrong, the say YES you could have made a mistake, but we care about you, and want you to be okay regardless. Even when they make mistakes, as Naho does in assuming Kakeru’s feelings, it is clear through their experiences that Kakeru is valued in the good timeline.
Above all, their ability to treasure Kakeru and talk to him honestly, as cliche as it may be, provides emotional, psychological, and social support, that honestly works, like it does in real life. It’s why support groups can be so effective, and why Interpersonal, Family, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can be effective in treating Depession. In the bad timeline, Kakeru messes up at points, and his friends couldn’t perceive that his stumblings were significant. Because of this, they were filled with regret that they couldn’t notice his pain earlier, just like many people feel in real life.
Something I want to emphasize now, is that the contents of the letters, as well as the actions Kakeru’s friends took to act on them, is essentially a huge form of wish fulfillment. Many people who have seen someone else close commit suicide, experienced that loss, often report huge amounts of guilt. Although it may be obvious to some, the question, “What could I have done?” reverberates, echoes, and haunts people, and we can see this take place in Orange.
There is an ENTIRE TIMELINE where Kakeru does not survive. That’s the whole point. It’s easy to provide for someone, look out for them if you know you’re looking for signs of sadness. Honestly, that’d make a therapist’s job way easier. But the thing is, just like in Orange, we can’t see that sometimes- emotions are hidden, people commit suicide, and the people around them either dismiss it, or feel shattered themselves- and this, is why Orange is such a powerful anime in regards to portraying depression.
Even in the good timeline, Kakeru tries to kill himself. He stops himself, only at the last minute, because he is able to realize that he, like many other real-life survivors, didn’t want to die. Despite his beliefs about himself, he was able to stop. Things aren’t all fixed and good because of “the power of friendship,” because after all, depression isn’t just social and mental. But because of his friends, he is able to obtain support that makes it just a bit easier to fight.
It acknowledges depression in a clinically accurate way, it acknowledges what people can do to help someone with depression, but that it’s also very easy to just not know about it at all.
A Crucial Takeaway
I don’t want to be too biased in my thoughts on depression, but honestly, Orange was an anime that I feel was extremely important, for such an honest portrayal of depression. It really did remind me just how easy it was to dismiss true depression, when all it looks like to the casual observer is just a little bit of a sad day. Knowing the clinical diagnosis of depression, after all, can only do so much, if a person doesn’t want to acknowledge it, doesn’t know how to, or simply wants to hide it.
My crucial takeaway- be a bit more observant, a bit more caring to those in our lives. Naho and her friends were able to save Kakeru through their efforts, but it’s so easy to just not do what they did. Helping someone exercise, a proper diet, maintaining responsibilities, those help, but that interpersonal touch- psychologically speaking, that acknowledgement from a friend that something is wrong, and that they will be there- that is what helps. It’s true, yes, that anti-depressants, therapy, those psychological touches can help, but it is also true that there are those who can’t access that immediately.
Going out of your way, being able to help even a new friend when something’s wrong- that could save a life. It’s powerful stuff.