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Depression More Than Just A Feeling of Sadness



To the editors:

I was impressed by the sympathetic coverage of the recent alleged crime of violence against a female student and the report on MIT's plan to toughen its alcohol policy (News, Feb. 6). So wrapped up in pride at the responsible reporting of my school's newspaper was I that reading the headline "Students Battle Blues" completely took me by surprise. In your report on depression in the Harvard community, depression, a mental illness which has a lifetime epidemiological prevalence of 5 percent in the U.S. population, was portrayed as an unseemly response which some people facing a bad set of circumstances are prone to experience.

Depression is not just a feeling of sadness but a disorder which, left untreated, can manifest itself in serious physical and psychological symptoms causing profound distress to the individual and his/her loved ones, increasing his/her predisposition for developing co-morbid disorders, and unfortunately all too often, precipitating selfmutilatory behavior and/or suicidality. Depression is not a disorder in the middle ground between "something...scientific...[and] being stressed out."

Sophisticated neurochemical research has linked Major Depressive Disorder to abnormalities in the pathways of neurotransmitters such as seratonin and norepinephrine; we no longer can trivialize the symptomatology of this disorder or hastily lump it in under the heading of general mental illness. Distinctions must be made in the popular mind between clinically significant depression and just having had a bad day. Suggesting that having a boyfriend or girlfriend is a viable solution to depression is insulting to the members of the Harvard-Radcliffe community who suffer from an illness that has its roots in neurochemistry. Those who must seek therapeutic treatment or take prescription medication to ward off relapse into depression, much as a diabetic depends on insulin to prevent illness, do not see relationships as a quick-fix to their situation.

Those who suspect that they or someone they care about may be depressed should see a professional, either their primary health care provider or a therapist through University Health Services or the Bureau of Study Counsel. A person should not feel ashamed because they are mentally ill; nor should psychopharmacology or therapeutic psychotherapy be considered taboo. These more so than any other known treatments are the keys to regaining one's mental health and returning to a normal level of functioning.

It is unfortunate that a school with students so aware of the dangers of other mental disorders such as substance abuse can be so ill-informed about a disorder as common and as serious as depression. LAURA M. LAWLESS '00   Feb. 6, 1998

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