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These days, there is still a stigma about depression and mental health. That stigma is starting to vanish, and people are more open than ever about their mental health and wellness issues. Now the New York Times is taking a look back at an important book that opened up the discussion about depression years ago.

The Importance of Darkness Visible

Darkness Visible was written by novelist William Styron. Styron, the author of Sophie’s Choice, wound up in a psychiatric ward, and he said, “My days were pervaded by a gray drizzle of unrelenting horror.” As the New York Times writes, “A confession of mental illness might not seem like a big deal now, but it was back then.” As a mental illness historian told the Times, “if you were depressed [years ago], it was a terrible dark secret that you hid from the world. People with depression were seen as pathetic and even dangerous. You didn’t let them near your kids.” But when Styron came forward and confessed his suffering, the response was major. Styron would later say, “Inadvertently I had helped unlock a closet from which many souls were eager to come out.” Styron’s daughter would also liken his confession to the #MeToo movement for mental health. “Somebody comes out and says: ‘This happened. This is real. This is what it feels like.’ And it just unleashed the floodgates.”

The Importance of Speaking Out

There are a number of books that people are given when they’re in recovery. If you suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction, you can read a book about someone who came out through the other side, and it can inspire you to change. Darkness Visible is a book that is often given to people who are suffering from depression. Many readers recognized their own experiences in the book and sought out help. Styron did not want to be a figurehead for mental health and depression, but after writing about his mental health struggles, he knew he had to keep speaking out. As the New York Times reports, with Darkness Visible, Styron was determined “to use himself as a case study to understand a mysterious disease, that gave the book its political power. Darkness Visible demonstrated that patients could be the owners and describers of their mental disorders, upending centuries of medical tradition in which the mentally ill were discredited and shamed.” In fact, a brain scientist named Alice Flaherty who was Styron’s doctor called Styron “the great god of depression” because of how he brought it to light to the public. One person told the Times, “I got depressed and everyone said to me: ‘You have to read the Bill Styron book. Have you read it? Let me give you a copy.’ On the one hand it was an absolutely harrowing read, and on the other hand, one very much rooted in hope.” Darkness Visible also came out at a time when anti-depressants like Prozac were hitting the market. Other books about depression then came out on the market that inspired others to get help, like An Unquiet Mind, Girl, Interrupted, and Prozac Nation. Styron said, “Everyone must keep up the struggle, for it is always likely that you will win the battle and nearly a certainty you will win the war. To all of you, sufferers and non-sufferers alike, I send my abiding love.”  

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