14 June 2020

The New Yorker: “Anatomy of Melancholy”

The day after my birthday, I moved to my father’s. I was hardly able to get up for the next week. The days were like this: I would wake up panicked. Xanax would relieve the panic if I took enough, but then I would collapse into thick, confusing, dream-heavy sleep. I wanted only to take enough to sleep forever. Whenever I woke up, I took more pills. Killing myself, like taking a shower, was too elaborate an agenda to entertain. All I wanted was for it to stop, but I could not say what “it” was. Words, with which I have always been intimate, seemed suddenly like complex metaphors, the use of which entailed much more energy than I had.

In the end, I cancelled only one reading. Between November 1st and December 15th, I visited eleven cities. Doing those readings was the most difficult endeavor of my life. My publisher’s publicist, who had organized my reading tour, came with me for more than half of it, cheering me through; my father came with me the rest of the time, and when we were apart he called me every few hours. I was never alone for long. The knowledge that I was loved was not in itself a cure, but without it I would not have been able to complete the tour. I would have found a place to lie down in the woods and I would have stayed there until I froze and died. Recovery depends enormously on support. The depressives I’ve met who have done the best were cushioned with love. Nothing taught me more about the love of my father and my friends than my own depression.

Andrew Solomon

After the death of my mother two years ago, I used to think of myself as ‘depressed’ when sadness and longing would overcome me. But reading this article, recommended to my by a close friend, I realized I was nowhere near the state of mind other less fortunate people are experiencing every day.

Bill Potter, who until recently headed a research group in clinical psychopharmacology at the N.I.M.H., says, Drugs that work by very different mechanisms produce antidepressant effects. It is possible for drugs with acutely different spectrums of biochemical activity to produce very similar long-term effects. It’s like a weather system. Something changes wind speeds or humidity, and you get a completely different kind of weather a hundred miles away, but even the best meteorologists can’t calculate all the variables. There is an ongoing quest for drugs that affect the brain with greater specificity. The existing medications are just too indirect for us to fully understand how they are working, Potter says.

Is the grand-scale social experiment of eliminating a state from the human mood spectrum dangerous? George Brown says, Social systems can play a powerful role in generating both psychiatric and physical disorder. For example, in the U.K., the rate of major depression among single mothers is double that of women raising children with a partner. I have nothing against Prozac, but there needs to be a recognition that what may well be a rising tide of depression is related to the fact that basic social and psychological needs are not being met. More generally, modernity has wrought changes to which we are not yet adequately adapted; depression appears to increase far more rapidly in technological cultures than in others. The investment to achieve modem life goals, the number of opportunities we have, is probably beyond the range our mind was designed to handle, Randolph Nesse says.

Andrew Solomon

The article feels very relevant today, more than 20 years after publication. The treatments haven’t changed significantly since, highlighting how much we have yet to learn about the delicate and complicated processes that combine to form our consciousness.

Imperial College research psilocybin as antidepressant
In London, researchers at the Imperial College have spearheaded work showing how psilocybin (or “magic mushrooms”) can be used to assist psychotherapy for difficult-to-treat depression, making a significant difference when conventional antidepressants and talking therapy have not

Post a Comment