by Comprehensive Staff
Most people will experience depression at some point in their life. Typically, this means feeling a little down or out of sorts about a particular loss or disappointment. Because we use the word depression to describe these typical periods of feeling low, it is hard for most of us to appreciate the levels of despair and hopelessness that are common when someone experiences an episode of severe depression.
Renee Montagne, a reporter with National Public Radio, recently reminded her listeners of a ground breaking article that appeared in Vanity Fair magazine 25 years ago (http://www.npr.org/2014/12/17/371364727/25-years-ago-darkness-visible-broke-ground-detailing-depression). In this essay titled “Darkness Visible,” William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice, described his personal experiences having “survived a near-fatal siege of depression” (http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/archive/1989/12/styron198912 ).
Styron goes on to say, “The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be bourne.” He never liked using the term depression. He referred to it as "a true wimp of a word for such a major illness."
Styron recalls a period in his life when he was in Paris to receive a prestigious award for his writing. Externally, he had all the trappings of a successful and full life — a beautiful wife, a successful career as a writer, international recognition and accolades — and yet he continued to experience intense feelings of utter despair. Due to his illness, the successes in his outer life did not reflect his inner experiences.
This story reminded me of the notorious quote from Meriwether Lewis’s journal on his 31st birthday, after having led the Lewis & Clark Expedition of Discovery up the Missouri River, across the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide, and then down the Columbia River in a dugout canoe to the Pacific Coast. Lewis summed up his accomplishments, looking through the lens of his suspected depression, by writing:
“This day I completed my thirty first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain in this Sublunary world. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the happiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation” (the Journal of Meriwether Lewis, August 18, 1805).
His despairing journal entry continues beyond this brief quote. Lewis would go on to die four years later by suicide, presumably a symptom of his untreated alcoholism and depression.
Mr. Styron, I am pleased to report – despite his continued struggles with depression and with the help of effective treatment – lived to 81, dying of natural causes in 2006.
William Styron’s article was written prior to Prozac becoming a common household word. Thanks to Stryon’s willingness to share his story and to the other brave individuals who have gone public with their stories about recovery from mental illness, the stigma regarding mental illness has gone down in the 25 years since the article appeared, thus opening the doors a little wider for others to seek treatment.
We know therapy works to treat severe depression, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. We know antidepressant medication helps too. And therapy combined with medication produces even better outcomes. It is time for us to bring depression out of the darkness, and to focus our attention on treatment and recovery from this disabling, and frequently fatal, illness.
Comprehensive provides individual and group treatment for depression, as well as medication management services. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with the symptoms of depression, please contact one of our offices and request an assessment.