I find the death of Heath Ledger particularly tragic and upsetting. If reports are true, some six different types of sleeping and anti-anxiety pills were found in the apartment where he died. These pills are typically used to treat the symptoms of clinical depression. Although autopsy reports are to date inconclusive, it seems apparent that an overdose of sorts, intentional or otherwise, was responsible for Ledger’s death. It’s probably no coincidence that he spoke recently of a desire to make a film about the influential English singer-songwriter Nick Drake who suffered from depression and died tragically at the age of 26 in 1974 from an overdose of the prescribed antidepressant, Amitriptyline. As part of this project Ledger had directed and appeared in a music video set to Drake’s recording of "Black Eyed Dog" a song about depression.
I know about the hell clinical depression causes. The way it can destroy careers, marriages …lives. Early childhood trauma or deprivation, genetic predisposition, life events, typically involving loss of love (in a 2005 interview, one Sophia Ryde revealed that a week before Drake died, she had sought to end their ‘unconsumated’ relationship), all coincide to cause clinical depression in those unlucky enough to be susceptible. There was a time when I thought suicide was a selfish act. Knowing what I now know, I think otherwise. It’s a symptom of disease, a disease that unfortunately continues to carry stigma with it.
Given that clinical depression is now at epidemic proportions in the Western world this stigma is surprising. I imagine it will dissipate as the number of people affected increases, and more start to realize that it’s a chemical imbalance, akin to diabetes, not a sign of ignorance, or an affliction visited solely upon Arkham House crazies. " Experts" (ignorance still reigns rampant) say that depression is caused by multiple factors, biochemical and environmental /circumstantial. I tend to believe that effective treatment resides on the biochemical side, cause on the environmental, cure on the societal. If our culture did a better job of allocating wealth, of creating environments better suited to the stress-free raising of children, of helping mothers nurture and love their babies, then perhaps as grown-ups these children would be less susceptible to crisis-causing events and triggers. Large extended families and ‘villages’ of caregivers are largely a thing of the past. Young parents these days either choose or are forced to make it on their own.
I suppose we should be grateful that for the most part depression is treatable. One can only hope that, despite capitalism’s incentives to produce treatment not cure, a solution will be found to better address this plague. But drug, or talk or any kind of therapy can only go so far. It may be that capitalism itself is the problem. But maybe not. Look at the ‘socialist’ Scandinavian countries. Depression and suicide tends there to be much higher than in Caribbean countries for example. Perhaps a bit more heat and sunshine, thanks to global warming, wont be such a bad thing.
While I understand that platitudes are of no help to those in Ledger and Drake space, I’ll nonetheless exit here with Tolstoy, but not before saying that I think those who commit suicide tragically and mistakenly believe that there is no use continuing to live because no one on earth will ever love them. It is incumbent on friends and loved ones to let them know in the clearest terms possible that the truth is otherwise: "Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here."