The Wrong Way To Talk About Depression

There’s a blog going around that attempts to make a bold statement about depression and suicide. In doing so, the author–who’s name may or may not rhyme with Fat Falsh–proves that not only is he completely ignorant and insensitive to the realities of mental health, but he’s also an opportunistic shill who has no moral qualms with exploitation.

Listen. It’s true that people who commit or attempt suicide make the choice themselves. But the reason we acknowledge that suicide is the outcome of a disease is because the faculties and chemicals required to make reasonable, rational choices are no longer available to someone who is depressed and suicidal. A major factor often missed by people who don’t experience depression is that it’s much more than just sadness. It’s a physical ailment, a dysfunction of a vital organ that can have serious effects on the quality of life. It also happens to be the organ in charge of decision making. When someone reduces depression to a “spiritual” matter, they completely undermine the severity of the illness, placing the blame on the person suffering, adding insult to injury.

For a perfect example, listen to Robin William’s interview with Marc Maron from 2010. Toward the end, Maron asks Williams about his depression, and Williams delves into a long, hilarious, slightly uncomfortable bit where he has a conversation with himself about suicide. It’s heartbreaking in the current context, but Maron laughs and applauds Williams’ seemingly improvised act. Of course, there’s probably too much truth to it, most importantly that Williams recognized the logical faults in suicide and when he was in the proper state of mind, was able to talk himself out of it. The other side of it is that it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where any one of those rational arguments are just out of reach for someone too deep in the trenches.

It’s not fair to speculate on someone’s state of mind, however, but it does offer a much more realistic perspective than what’s-his-name’s trollfest of a blog.

Truthfully, I’m heartbroken about Robin Williams’ death for all of the same reasons as everyone else. I took his existence for granted, and there’s something about comedians specifically that is sacred to me. For the most part, the resulting conversation about mental health has been positive and constructive, which is a small consolation for this loss.

There is ample material to revisit in tribute to Robin Williams, but this clip is probably my favorite at the moment. Watch it and laugh, or cry, and then just be nice to each other.

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Cody Ray Shafer

Cody is a writer and media critic living in Salt Lake City, Utah. When he's not writing he plays guitar and sings with his wife Sara Beth. They have one son, Oliver, and pug, Hugo.

2 thoughts on “The Wrong Way To Talk About Depression”

  1. Cody, thank you for your compassionate response to the incredibly insensitive remarks by Matt Walsh. I suppose that’s what happens to people’s empathy and intellectual integrity when they think they have the TRUTH (all caps) and don’t need to listen to others.

    As someone who has struggled off and on with depression, I agree with your perspective. Sometimes our own biology works against us and makes rational decision-making impossible. (I think that is true to some degree all the time, but in the depths of depression it is even more so.) But others can often pull us out of that black pit with love, empathy and appropriate medical intervention.

    I enjoyed meeting you at the Kate Kelly vigil and wish you and Sara the best of success in Ireland.

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