01 July 2006

 

If Depression Were Cancer

From Flatland, some thoughts on depression and Denise Denton, if depression is what led Denise Denton to commit suicide. (My rememberance of Denise is below.)
Imagine having cancer with a good rate of remission, whose cure you could not seek without people concluding "Yeah, she just couldn't handle the job," or even "Yeah, women just can't handle that sort of job." "You know how women get -- when things get stressful, they always go running for cancer treatments. Put them in a position of this sort, they'll get cancer." And then, even the most compassionate among your advocates thinking "Well, maybe people with cancer just shouldn't be put in a position like that. It's too much for them, poor dears." When all you needed was a few months of treatment before resuming a job for which you were uniquely suited.

And that's what killed Denise Denton. Not the stress of the job, but the cultural assumptions that go with mental illness, combined with the cultural assumptions that women can only go so far in the academy. And who among us could say we would have been braver in the face of those assumptions?
I think that's a great framing. I know I'm only repeating what's above, but think about it. Since depression often does go away without explicit action, and since treatment of depression -- and just about every other form of mental illness -- is often looked upon as a sign of weakness, think about what things would be like if the disease in question were physical.

It would be nice if we could create a cultural situation that would allow more people who are afflicted with mental illnesses to receive treatments that are effective for those conditions instead of the dark-ages like attitudes that seem to persist. We may be wired to make that difficult, but we've got enough wiring and the ability to construct cultural situations to make it possible, too.

Update: I'm ignoring the gender / gender bias / gender discrimination issue, just like Flatland ignored the sexuality / homophobia issue. They're relevant, important, certainly factors. But depression, even if it has different likelihoods of incidence in different gender or sexuality categories -- for reason from genetics as soup to culture as nuts (heh, it's like I'm chanelling Agenda Bender. I flatter myself) -- is widespread enough regardless of category to consider it alone first. Your mileage may vary, and I might could be educated on this.

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