Andrew Solomon in PBS's "Depression: Out of the Shadows."
The seven individuals whose stories are told in "Depression: Out of the
Shadows" were struck down at various ages -- one as early as elementary
school -- by unfathomable mental torment. The documentary sets about showing
just how fathomable that torture is, where it begins -- heredity, it seems,
is a powerful risk factor in depression -- and what can be done to allay it.
Along the way, its seven subjects provide their memories of an onslaught
said to be incomprehensible to nonsufferers, and one that can't be
Yet describe is exactly what those subjects do so potently in their haunted
reflections. "It was like that second, if you've slipped and are just about
to fall flat on your face on the floor -- that feeling all the time, 24
hours a day," says Andrew Solomon (author of "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of
Depression") of the acute anxiety that came with the depression that beset
him, without warning, at age 31, just at the beginning of a promising
writing career. There had been a trigger, as is so often the case. As the
film's assorted experts on depression emphasize, biological factors aren't
the sole cause -- the disorder, in those prone to it, can be set off by
events. Something happens -- some loss or stress. What happened to Mr.
Solomon was the death, three years earlier, of his mother -- a central
presence in his life, as he makes clear in a brief, singularly moving
The something that happened to Dr. Sherwin Nuland, surgeon and author, was
the breakup, in his late 30s, of his marriage. Still, as he knew, having had
a much earlier, milder bout with depression, the cause of the intractable
anguish that now had him in its grip had more to do with his terrifying
childhood than anything that happened later -- a childhood dominated by a
chronically enraged immigrant father prone to irrational outbursts, a man
who couldn't read or write English, a parent whose very presence in the
boy's life was a humiliation. "Lost in America: A Journey With My Father"
(2003) is Dr. Nuland's memoir about this childhood: a work distinguished for
its ferocious lyricism, power and -- if we're still allowed to use the word
-- audacity. His major depression, impervious to all other treatment, would
finally begin to lift only after numerous electroshock-therapy sessions.
Most of the case histories here, it's probably necessary to say by now,
aren't about writers. For a considerable while, though, the film's subjects
do all seem to be living in comfortably upscale circumstances, with living
rooms and kitchens to die for and roomy gardens -- mothers painting murals,
fathers at the piano, and such. In addition to these, there's Philip
Burguieres, one of the youngest CEOs ever to run a Fortune 500 company. Are
there, you begin to wonder, no Americans of the lower-middle class, say --
no bus drivers from Queens or waitresses from Columbus -- whose struggles
against depression might be of interest?
In due course the film does cross the tracks, so to speak, to a different
sort of social milieu -- and quite a leap it is. That would be the story of
DaShaun "Jiwe" Morris, a member of the Bloods gang who came to understand,
in prison, the pain and emptiness that had driven him to find nurturing in
A treasure for its information and explanation, this documentary is that
rare thing -- powerful television that can also work some good in the world.
portrait not to be missed.
IN THE WORKPLACE
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When Darkness Falls on Depression - TV
Andrew Solomon in PBS's "Depression: Out of the Shadows."
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