This week, Janet Street Porter of the Daily Mail published an article entitled “Depression? It’s just the new trendy illness”. Outrage ensued — after all, everyone knows that depression is a very real issue, right? Wrong. The sad truth is, Porter is not the first, and will not be the last, person to declare depression a fad or a cop-out.
What makes Porter’s article so maddening is the large volume of ignorance she displayed. As writers, it is our job to research things before we start running our mouths off. Rather than bother with silly facts and information, however, Porter took it upon herself to denounce depression as nothing but a trend, contradicting herself and outright lying all the way through. She made it clear by the end of the first paragraph that she has absolutely no idea what depression is, let alone whether it is a legitimate illness or not. She used the terms “depression” and “stress” interchangeably (a quick browse through the dictionary is all it would have taken to clear up her obvious confusion), she falsely claimed that most sufferers of depression are rich, middle aged women and that depression didn’t even exist until the 60′s (tell that to Sylvia Plath, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, etc.).
I could go off on a tirade about her disturbing ignorance and appalling writing skills, but because I have spent a good portion of my life explaining depression to those that don’t understand it, I thought I would do her the same favor.
So, Ms. Porter, here is a bit of information that you may want to absorb before clicking that “post” button again.
1. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 121 million people suffer from depression, worldwide. Of those, less than 25% can actually afford or access treatment. Kinda shoots down your theory that this is a rich-bitch trend, doesn’t it?
2. The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines “depression” as:
A psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, loss of appetite, anhedonia, feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness, and thoughts of death. Also called clinical depression.
It defines “stress” as:
A physical or psychological stimulus that can produce mental tension or physiological reactions that may lead to illness.
These definitions are not even vaguely similar, and neither are the feelings. Your insistence on using the terms interchangeably is ignorant, insensitive, and embarrassingly inaccurate, considering you claim to be a writer. Being stressed about one’s busy life is not at all comparable to irrationally severe sadness. I didn’t think I would ever have to point that out, but apparently, I do.
3. Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) described “melancholia” as a disease that created long-lasting irrational fears, sadness and despondency. Avicenna, an 11th century Persian physician who authored “The Canon of Medicine”, wrote at length about melancholia. The term “depression” was first published in medical dictionaries in the 1860′s. Freud wrote about depression in the early 1900′s. Where on earth did you get the idea that depression is a recent phenomenon?
4. Two of the main causes of depression are genetics (it’s been proven that depression can be passed from one generation to the next, though we’re still not sure how) and chemical imbalances. Since rich people are not, to my knowledge, immune to genetics or chemical imbalances, your opinion that being well-off should somehow prevent depression is blatant nonsense.
5. Embarrassment and social-stigma prevent many people from getting treated for depression. How can all of these people be following a trend while trying desperately to keep it hidden? This would be like buying the trendiest clothing and then hiding it all at the back of the closet. Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
As both a lifelong sufferer of depression and a fellow writer, I find this article deeply offensive. No research was done, no care was taken in the choosing of words and the espoused opinion seems to stem solely from haughtiness. It was written with a complete lack of understanding and a disturbing lack of sensitivity. Depression is a very real, and very serious, psychological condition that affects millions of lives and often leads to suicide. Doubting its existence and patronizing its sufferers is both contradictory and cruel. Ms. Porter, you should be ashamed of yourself as both a writer and a human being.