On Thursday night, Boston College welcomed Andrew Solomon, the first of three speakers in the Park Street Corporation Speaker Series. Solomon is an acclaimed author, lecturer, and activist. Along with writing seven books, notably Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon, Solomon has also written for major publications such as NPR, The New York Times, and the New Yorker. His book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, on which his talk was centered around, was the winner of the 2001 National Book Award, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist, and an international bestseller. Entitled, “Depression: The Secret We Share,” Solomon’s talk was nothing short of informative, applicable, and moving. In front of a populous audience of students, professors, and members of the public, he addressed issues of mental health, specifically depression. Solomon seamlessly connected his personal experiences and opinions regarding depression with that of others. All in all, Solomon’s talk was one that everyone could take something away from.
After commencing his talk with an emotional, passionate reading of Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” Solomon began to share his own experience of living with depression. He drew several comparisons between people with and without depression, the most illuminating example being how people without depression turn on a shower and take one as if it is nothing, while people living with depression turn on a shower and almost immediately have to go back to bed because they are overwhelmed by the pressure of the water alone. Although people without depression can identify their fears and attempt to overcome them, Solomon pointed out how people with depression are afraid, but they do not know what exactly they are afraid of, making the fears extraordinarily difficult to overcome.
Not only did Solomon detail his own experience living with depression, but he also touched on the experiences of others and what can be learned from them. He shared experiences from the many letters he has received while also pointing out how there are people with depression, but they cannot get themselves to write a letter or seek help. He then went on to explain how some people with depression cannot get themselves to go to the polls on election day and are thus unable to express their voices through voting. One of the primary reasons why Solomon chooses to share stories and advocate is to give those who are depressed the voice they often cannot express in society.
Solomon also shared the story of his college roommate, Harry, who had depression that no one around him realized. Harry e-mailed Solomon explaining how he was feeling depressed and Solomon responded, in a way he described as a “loss of rationale,” with affirmative words and expression of support. Harry eventually committed suicide, to which Solomon connected the striking statistic that more people die of gun suicide than gun homicide. Solomon went on to make the point that suicidal people are often “difficult to see.” When talking to the family of someone who killed themselves after a long, secretive battle with depression, he thought, “if only he had put that energy into seeking treatment rather than keeping it a secret,” urging the audience to do the same in seeking help rather than keeping quiet.
Solomon ended his talk with a near-perfect display of activism and a call for change. He described treatments for depression as “appalling” due to their high costs and side effects. He also expressed his distaste toward the treatment of mental health among immigrants, calling for change in that area well. His final point called the audience to action: “In this moment, we need to have people advocate for other people. That will help us to treat others kindly and compassionately so that there will be love and justice for everyone.”
The event did not end there, however. After he concluded, audience members had the opportunity to ask questions. The stand-out question of the Q&A session was the final one, by the UGBC Mental Health Committee Chair, Michael Lange, MCAS ’21. The question asked Solomon what advice he would give to BC Counseling Services, described by Lange as having a, “grotesque undertreatment of students.” BC Counseling services have long received criticism for this exact reason, among others, and there has been a lot of need and demand for improvement. Solomon first responded to this question by pointing out how high the depression rates are on college campuses, citing social media as a major factor. Admitting that he, understandably, does not have much knowledge of Boston College Counseling Services, Solomon said that all college campuses across the nation need to have better screening and support for people with depression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health challenges, stating that, “the least these people can get is good help.”
If you would like to read more about Andrew Solomon and his writing, visit his website here.