Told that someone’s mood disorder has evolved into a storm – a veritable howling tempest in the brain, which is indeed what clinical depression resembles like nothing else – even the uninformed layman might display sympathy rather than the standard reaction that “depression” evokes, something akin to “So what” or “You’ll pull out of it” or “We all have bad days.” The phrase “nervous breakdown” seems to be on its way out, certainly deservedly so, owing to its insinuation of a vague spinelessness, but we still seem destined to be saddled with “depression” until a better, sturdier name is created.
The depression that engulfed me was not of the manic type – the one accompanied by euphoric highs – which would have most probably presented itself earlier in my life. I was sixty when the illness struck for the first time, in the unipolar form, which leads straight down. I shall never learn what “caused” my depression, as no one will ever learn about their own. To be able to do so will likely forever prove to be an impossibility, so complex are the intermingled factors of abnormal chemistry, behaviour and genetics. Plainly, multiple components are involved - perhaps three or four, most probably more, in fathomless permutations. That is why the greatest fallacy about suicide lies in the belief that there is a single immediate answer – or perhaps combined answers – as to why the deed was done.
The inevitable question “Why did he [or she] do it?” usually leads to odd speculations, for the most part fallacies themselves. Reasons were quickly advanced for Abbie Hoffman’s death: his reaction to an auto accident he had suffered, the failure of his most recent book, his mother’s serious illness. With Randall Jarrell it was a declining career cruelly epitomized by a vicious book review and his consequent anguish. Primo Levi, it was rumoured, had been burdened by caring for his paralytic mother, which was more onerous to his spirit than even his experiences at Auschwitz. Any one of these experiences may have lodged like a thorn in the sides of the three men and been a torment. Such aggravations may be crucial and cannot be ignored. But most people quietly endure the equivalent of injuries, declining careers, nasty book reviews, family illnesses. A vast majority of the survivors of Auschwitz have borne up fairly well. Bloody and bowed by the outrages of life, most human beings still stagger on down the road, unscathed by real depression. To discover why some people plunge into the downward spiral of depression, one must search beyond the manifest crisis – and then still fail to come up with anything beyond wise conjecture. - William Styron