Depression and the Arts
This isn’t an article about the recent suicide of a musician I admire, though I remain sad at his passing. This article is about the effects of the arts and media on folks with clinical depression. It’s been on my mind lately, and Chris Cornell’s death brought it to the forefront of my head again.
I had a discussion a while back where I was trying to explain the fact that the art and media we experience has a very real effect on depression. I was cut off abruptly.
“I’m not talking about being sad, I have clinical depression.”
It was curt and final, that statement. Not exactly a statement that encourages further discussion. I let it go. There are times when further speech is speech wasted. However, if I’d been given any sort of opening, I would have liked to say one thing.
I was talking about clinical depression.
Clinical depression runs in my family. We all have it to one extent or another. Me, I still struggle with it on occasion, though I manage. Mine has times when it is fairly fierce, but most of the time it’s mild enough that I have few problems. That wasn’t always the case. My anxiety on the other hand…
I want to make one thing very clear here. I am in no way, shape, or form anti-medication when it comes to either depression or anxiety. Meds help a ton of people and can be a very important tool in toning down severe symptoms. My symptoms are not as severe, and for the most part, I can manage without meds by using alternative therapies. Not everyone has that choice and everyone should consider all the tools in the box when it comes to treatment for mental health, just as they should for physical health. In some cases, no amount of alternative therapy will be enough to help. In my case, it is helpful 99% of the time.
Now, back to the Arts and media we experience in our daily lives. Let’s look at a specific example. Many scientific studies have been done on how music effects brain chemistry. It does. Music, and the type you listen to, has a chemical effect on the brain.
Many intelligent people will agree that yes, it does. And yet, when it is suggested to these same people that what they decide to view and listen to effects their depression, that’s when the speaker is often regarded as perhaps not the sharpest crayon in the pack.
“I’m not listening to that there new-age mumbo-jumbo.”
You caught me. No one said that. But I guarantee people sometimes think it. Because, regardless of the science that backs up an alternative therapy, if it doesn’t sound like western medicine with its drugs and doctors, it is viewed as nonsense.
Back in the day, when my depression was quite a bit more serious, I learned something that helped me. Art and media that was frightening, depressing, or infuriating made my depression much worse. I started weaning myself off of it. I don’t watch television news, I can read news articles, but I don’t watch it anymore. It’s all too sensational. Television wants those ratings, so the stories are going to be as dramatic as possible. Most news is negative, which leaves people thinking the world is a more negative place as a whole than it truly is. Studies have been done on that phenomenon as well.
I used to feed my depression–listening to the sad music and the watching the sad movies. I don’t anymore. I don’t need that crap. I don’t care how amazing a movie such as Schindler’s List is, I’m not watching it. I’m sure it’s a fine movie, but it’s not in my best interests to watch it. I can watch movies that have serious bits in them, I can watch crazy horror movies, I don’t have to watch super-serious movies, so I don’t.
When I was a couple of years into cutting out art and media that wasn’t helping my depression, I read a great book by Dr. Andrew Weil. It was called 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, and in it, Dr. Weil spoke a great deal about this very subject.
“Oh, she read a book by some new-age health guru. No wonder she believes this stuff.”
Dr. Andrew Weil got his medical doctorate from Harvard. He worked at the National Institute of Mental Health. He was one of the founders of Integrated Medicine and, at present, he is Director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, where he also holds the Lovell-Jones Endowed Chair in Integrative Rheumatology and is Clinical Professor of Medicine. He is one of the many doctors that know how much our behaviors and experiences influence our mental and physical heath.
Because of my own experiences, and the things I learned when I read Dr. Weil’s book and did further research into the subject, I don’t need meds for my depression. I have the odd bad day or two now and again, but I no longer consider myself a person who has depression. It didn’t happen all at once, and it wasn’t an easy fix or a quick one. It’s something I worked at for a over a decade.
I know I’m lucky. My level of depression was one I could manage without medication. Not everyone with clinical depression has the option to choose alternative therapies to medication. However, even if one’s issues require medicinal help, these alternative therapies can also help. It’s not a case of either or. Dr. Weil himself is a firm believer in using medication when medication is necessary.
If you have depression, take a look at what types of art and media you experience in your life. Pay attention to how it influences your emotional and mental state. Consider reaching out to art which has a positive effect and distancing yourself from that which does not. It’s not a quick fix, but it makes a huge difference. I recommend that book by Dr. Weil. It was a real eye-opener for me.
Also, if at any time in your life you are considering suicide, please speak to someone. There are so many things that can help.
And now for something completely different:
A writer friend of mine, Robertson Tait, has a Kindle Scout campaign that could use some nominations! I read his Scot Free in Hollywood, and loved it to pieces. If you have an Amazon account, check out his newest book! If you nominate it and it get’s selected by Kindle Press, you get a free copy of the eBook.
Me, I have Nick of Time all set up for its Kindle Scout run. The campaign should be live in a couple of days.