The two final paragraphs from this blog post really resonated with me last week when I read them. Everyone knows mental illness exists, everyone knows that the effects of mental illness can be terrible, and yet, people don’t want to talk about it. It’s not a pleasant topic, but it’s one that needs to be addressed and needs to be approached with more honesty and compassion.
Over the last year, depression and suicide have seen more time in the spotlight. Ned Vizzini’s suicide, followed by Robin Williams’s — and the near 40, 000 suicides that happen per year in the US — make it clear we need to be talking about this more. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. While depression is not indicative of suicide, the two are linked together in a way that makes talking about them in tandem make sense.
There’s a mythology that surrounds depression and suicide, particularly when it comes to creative types. It’s a mythology that’s exceptionally destructive and belittling to all those who suffer from mental illness, and it’s this: that that anguish is what causes the best work to happen.
Following Williams’s death, I read the comment far too often that creative people are most likely to suffer because that suffering is where art is born. It tends to be the complete opposite. Creative types don’t see depression as what drives them. The best work isn’t made when they’re down, but rather, when artists are up. When down and the work isn’t coming together, it actually further fuels the depression/anxiety cycle, making it even more difficult to create and engage in a healthy way. Myra McEntire and Stephanie Perkins have both written about this and the ways that depression has impacted not just their careers, but their personal lives, as well.
Part of why people believe and engage in this myth telling is because it’s easier than trying to make sense of an illness that often doesn’t appear to have a root cause. How could someone talented or successful be depressed? How can someone who seems to have it all together find it difficult to get out of bed, to take a shower, to want to talk with the people who love and care about them? When people choose to look at an illness through that set of lenses, they blame the victim, rather than educate themselves on the disease.
When we do that, we further stigmatize those who are suffering from depression, making them less likely to seek treatment or practice necessary self-care and preservation.
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