Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the American literary icon whose writing is often described as dark and satirical, died Wednesday at the age of 84. Vonnegut, whose mother committed suicide, suffered from depression and himself attempted suicide in 1984.
What struck me as I read the obituaries was that almost without exception, his battle with depression and suicide attempt were noted. There’s no question in my mind that twenty years ago, there would have been no emphasis, and probably no mention, of either.
But in the last decade or so, we have grown accustomed to celebrities revealing their battles with depression. Some of the revelations have not exactly been revelations (Robin Williams is bipolar? I never would have guessed) and some have been a complete surprise, like Ashley Judd, who seemed to have it all together.
While one can’t help wondering if in many cases these disclosures are the new version of celebrities confessing to addiction, which was fashionable in the seventies and eighties, the upshot is still positive. The more depression is brought out into the open, and the more it’s mentioned almost incidentally, as in Vonnegut’s obituaries, the closer we get to eradicating the stigma that is attached to it.
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