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Entries in #mental health (2)


And another thing about depression

What is the most burdensome disease in the world today? According to the World Health Organization,  the disease that robs the most adults of the most years of productive life is not AIDS, not heart disease, not cancer. It is depression.

In this post from the New York Times' "Opinionator" online column, Tina Rosenberg addresses mental health treatment in the poorer parts of the planet, which often means looking into whether it exists at all. I don't post this in ignorance of the long-standing debate about whether western psychology holds the keys to the world's problems (hint: it can't possibly), but rather to point out that mental illnesses, like physical illnesses, are to be found just about everywhere. How we talk about them and what treatment we provide will likely be different; the need to provide something, however, seems pretty clear. As a researcher quoted in Rosenberg's post puts it: 

“There’s an assumption that after you bury five of your kids you get used to it, and it doesn’t hurt as much...People don’t realize you don’t get used to it. You just give up.”

In a time when changing climates and trade patterns result in more and more people being uprooted from their homes and ways of life, this issue is only going to increase. So yes, let's mitigate the social and environmental and geopolitical situations that so often leave people vulnerable to disease of all kinds, but let's acknowledge that once these diseases do exist, people need treatment--whatever that might be for them. And let's not lose sight of the fact that there is also a broad gap in access to effective treatment within our own country.



On the Value of Depression

One evening, after our workshop let out, four of us from my MFA fiction cohort crammed into a car to drive through the Caldecott tunnel. We were discussing class, probably discussing our classmates and their work--I don't remember the specifics. What I do remember, however, is one of us saying that a particular classmate was neurotic. "Of course he is," someone else said, indignant. "We all are. We're writers."

I would be lying if I said that there weren't times when I've wondered whether being mentally healthy is a liability in my chosen path, that maybe I've gotten myself to a point where I'm too sane for greatness. 

I don't think it's just that we expect extremes to go together, whether extremes of talent, personality, behavior, or whatever, even though that's clearly part of it. Culturally we are far more likely to forgive, or at least overlook, eccentricities if they come packaged along with incredible talent. (What, Mr. Jobs? You want a genetic background of that sushi you just ate? You got it.) I think we've come to demand it as a method of artistic authentication. And when I talk about writers, I'm not talking about the Malcolm Gladstones or Michael Pollans or Jonah Lehrers of the world, although that group's clearly been having its own problems lately, problems indicative of a whole other batch of fallacies about writing and ideas and public personas (but that's another post). I'm talking about the fiction writers, the painters, the singers, the actors--David Foster Wallace,  Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger. Go back a little further and there's Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Vincent VanGogh. And so on. I could go on for quite awhile.

And it's dangerous.

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