The Op-Ed That Changed Views on Depression
In a 1988 NYT column, William Styron broke taboos surrounding mental illness.
By December 19, 1988, William Styron was already a literary giant courtesy of novels such as Sophie’s Choice. But on that day, his legacy shifted with the publication of a historic op-ed in The New York Times in which he publicly revealed his battle with mental illness.
And in doing so he broke many of the taboos that kept people suffering from depression in hiding.
“The response to Mr. Styron’s op-ed was immediate,” writes Pagan Kennedy in the newspaper’s look back at the iconic article. “Letters flooded into The New York Times,” The readers thanked him, blurted out their stories and begged him for more. ‘Inadvertently I had helped unlock a closet from which many souls were eager to come out,’ Mr. Styron wrote later.
Styron later wrote a memoir based on his battle with depression, “Darkness Visible,” in October 1990. For many suffering similar struggles, the tome became a guidebook.
“Mr. Styron also helped to popularize a new way of looking at the brain. In his telling, suicidal depression is a physical ailment, as unconnected to the patient’s moral character as cancer,” writes Kennedy.
To the day he died in 2006 he battled with the impulses to end his life, but he ultimately resisted, succumbing to the more physical scourges of pneumonia and cancer.
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