In today’s day, many people have no shame talking about mental health through essays, podcasts, videos, or even social media posts. Back in the ‘80s, it would take a lot of courage to have anything published about mental health. In 1989, William Styron, author of “Sophie’s Choice” published a 15,000 word essay on depression in Vanity Fair that changed the way we view depression.
The Content of Darkness Visible
Styron’s memoir “Darkness Visible” took readers on a trip to his depressive mental space. Styron talks about how in the summer of 1985, he developed an intolerance to alcohol. He felt like contemplating suicide and was admitted to a psychiatric ward in a Connecticut hospital where he stayed for several weeks. Styron gives readers a list of artists and writers who lost their lives to depression like Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Wolff, Sylvia Plath, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and many others. He rebukes against the stigma of depression and suicide. That just like people are not afraid to talk about those who suffer from terminal cancer, the same should be said about those who suffer from real suicidal thoughts.
Styron speaks about how it feels like people with depression are cut off from the rest of the world. He felt like he was losing his voice, energy, the ability to eat and enjoy food, and a loss of hope. Styron also mentions how when other people are tackling an illness, they would be hospitalized with the help of a life support machine or sedated even. People with depression, on the other hand, have to just walk around like a “casualty of war.”
Reaction to Darkness Visible
This Vanity Fair piece won a National Magazine Award and an expanded version became a paperback that was published in 1990. This essay caused readers to write letters to the magazine and to Styron himself. The Atlantic’s Peter Fulham felt like Styron was not only a great writer, but a pioneer towards mental health. Author Andrew Solomon felt like this book was a liberation to be able to speak about their experiences of depression and to doctors. Even certain medical schools had their students read this book for class. “Darkness Visible” was one of the first of many to introduce the topic of depression to a mainstream audience. William Styron was one of the first authors to inspire others to do something about their depression.
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