Jeffrey Smart, Alma Mahler Feeding the Birds 1968 (Wikiart)

Depressione, che cosa possiamo (davvero) fare?

La depressione, disse, è un malfunzionamento dello strumento che usiamo per determinare cosa sia la realtà. E poi parlò delle voci, voci bugiarde, ma che stanno quasi sempre con te, che ti ripetono una serie di cliché ai quali però finisci per dare retta: sei un peso per chi ti ha voluto bene, non hai futuro, nessuno sentirà la tua mancanza.
David Brooks sul Nytimes racconta una storia di depressione finita male, la storia di un suo grande amico. Ci spinge anche a ragionare su quel che possono fare gli amici, i familiari di chi soffre di depressione. Scrive Brooks, raccontando il dopo, dopo che il suo amico si è suicidato:
“Se mai dovessi trovarmi di nuovo in una situazione simile, saprò che non ha senso cercare di spingere qualcuno fuori dalla depressione. È meglio mostrare che si sta cercando di capire cosa sta sopportando la sua anima tormentata. È importante creare un’atmosfera in cui chi soffre possa condividere la sua esperienza. È sufficiente offrirgli il conforto di essere visto.”

(Illustrazione: Jeffrey Smart, Alma Mahler Feeding the Birds, 1968)

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8 risposte a “Depressione, che cosa possiamo (davvero) fare?”

  1. Avatar

    Grazie. Sempre!
    (Non si riesce a leggere sul NY “per problema tecnico, sorry” ma riproverò)

    Inviato da iPhone

    "Mi piace"

  2. Credo che chi sta veramente vicino possa fare molto: ascoltare, capire, supportare, spingere, alleggerire. Molto comunque si deve anche alle figure professionali.

    "Mi piace"

  3. Ho scritto un libro che affronta questo tema: Maddalena bipolare (Golem Edizioni).

    "Mi piace"

  4. @Carla – il link funziona, il problema è che il Nytimes è a pagamento e dopo qualche visualizzazione/mese non ti fa leggere l’articolo.
    Il testo comunque è questo:

    My friendship with Peter Marks was created around play. Starting at
    age 11, we played basketball, softball, capture the flag, rugby. We
    teased each other, pulled pranks, made fun of each other’s dance
    moves and pretty much everything else. We could turn eating a burger
    into a form of play, with elaborate smacking of lips and operatic
    exclamations about the excellence of the cheese. We kept it up for
    five decades.

    My wife has a phrase that got Pete just right — a rare combo of
    normal and extraordinary: masculine in the way you’re supposed to be
    masculine, with great strength and great gentleness. A father in the
    way you’re supposed to be a father, with great devotion, fun and
    pride. A husband the way you are supposed to be a husband, going home
    at night grateful because the person in the whole world you want to
    talk with the most is going to be sitting right there across the
    dinner table.

    Over the years, Pete and I often spoke about the stresses he was
    enduring over the management of his medical practice, but I didn’t
    see the depths of what he was going through until we spent a weekend
    with him in the spring of 2019. My wife noticed a change immediately.
    A light had gone out; there was an uncharacteristic flatness in his
    voice and a stillness in his eyes. One bright June afternoon, he
    pulled us aside and told us he wasn’t himself. He was doing what he
    loved most — playing basketball, swimming in the lake — but he
    couldn’t enjoy anything. He was worried for his family and himself
    and asked for our continued friendship and support. It was the first
    time I had seen such pain in him — what turned out to be severe
    depression. I was confronted with a question for which I had no
    preparation: How do you serve a friend who is hit with this illness?

    I tried the best I could, but Pete succumbed to suicide last April.
    This article flows from what I learned from those agonizing three
    years and that senseless tragedy. It reflects a hard education with no

    First, I need to tell you more about Pete. We met as kids at
    Incarnation Camp in Connecticut. We were campers and counselors
    together for a decade and remained close for life. At camp, Pete was
    handsome, strong, athletic and kind. There was an exuberant
    goofballism about him.

    I remember once, in a fit of high silliness, he started skipping
    around the dining hall, singing, and leaping higher and higher with
    each skip. He tried to skip right out of the room, but there was a
    doorframe, probably about seven feet tall, and Pete slammed into the
    top of the frame and fell flat on his back. The rest of us, being
    16-year-old junior counselors, found this utterly hilarious. Pete,
    also being 16, found this utterly hilarious, too. I remember him lying
    there in a fit of giggles, with a doorframe-shaped bruise forming on
    his brow.

    One summer, Pete and I led a team of 12- and 13-year-olds in a
    softball game against a team of 14- and 15-year-olds. Our team
    miraculously won. In the celebration afterward, Pete, the boys and I
    piled on one another on the mound in a great wriggling heap of
    disproportionate ecstasy. We hugged and screamed and high-fived. I
    think our celebration lasted longer than the game — a volcano-like
    pile of male self-approval that is lodged in my memory as one of
    life’s moments of pure joy.

    As the years went by, Pete did well in college, joined the Navy, went
    to medical school and became an eye surgeon. On evenings before
    surgery, Pete took great care of himself, didn’t stay out, made sure
    he had enough sleep to do the job that he loved. On evenings after
    surgery, he’d call his patients to see how they were feeling. His
    wife, Jen, a dear friend who was also at camp with us, used to linger
    around just to hear the gentleness of his tone on those calls, the
    reassuring kindness of his manner.

    He seemed, outwardly, like the person in my circle least likely to be
    afflicted by a devastating depression, with a cheerful disposition, a
    happy marriage, a rewarding career and two truly wonderful sons, Owen
    and James. But he was carrying more childhood trauma than I knew, and
    depression eventually overwhelmed him.

    At first, I did not understand the seriousness of the situation.
    That’s partly temperamental. Some people catastrophize and imagine
    the worst. I tend to bright-icize and assume that everything will work
    out. But it’s also partly because I didn’t realize that depression
    had created another Pete. I had very definite ideas in my head about
    who Pete was, and depression was not part of how I understood my

    Over the next months, severe depression was revealed to me as an
    unimagined abyss. I learned that those of us lucky enough never to
    have experienced serious depression cannot understand what it is like
    just by extrapolating from our own periods of sadness. As the
    philosophers Cecily Whiteley and Jonathan Birch have written, it is
    not just sorrow; it is a state of consciousness that distorts
    perceptions of time, space and self.

    The journalist Sally Brampton called depression a landscape that “is
    cold and black and empty. It is more terrifying and more horrible than
    anywhere I have ever been, even in my nightmares.”

    The novelist William Styron wrote brilliantly about his own depression
    in “Darkness Visible.” He wrote that “the madness of depression
    is, generally speaking, the antithesis of violence. It is a storm
    indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down
    responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to
    zero.” He continued: “I experienced a curious inner convulsion
    that I can describe only as despair beyond despair. It came out of the
    cold night; I did not think such anguish possible.”

    During the Covid pandemic, Pete and I spoke by phone. In the
    beginning, I made the mistake of trying to advise him about how he
    could lift his depression. He had earlier gone to Vietnam to perform
    eye surgeries for those who were too poor to afford them. I told him
    he should do that again, since he found it so tremendously rewarding.
    I did not realize it was energy and desire that he lacked, not ideas
    about things to do. It’s only later that I read that when you give a
    depressed person advice on how to get better, there’s a good chance
    all you are doing is telling the person that you just don’t get it.

    I tried to remind Pete of all the wonderful blessings he enjoyed, what
    psychologists call “positive reframing.” I’ve since read that
    this might make sufferers feel even worse about themselves for not
    being able to enjoy all the things that are palpably enjoyable.

    I learned, very gradually, that a friend’s job in these
    circumstances is not to cheer the person up. It’s to acknowledge the
    reality of the situation; it’s to hear, respect and love the person;
    it’s to show that you haven’t given up on him or her, that you
    haven’t walked away.

    Time and again Pete would talk about his great fear that he would
    someday lose his skill as a surgeon, that he would cease to be a
    healer, that he would lose his identity and self.

    As Pete spoke of his illness, it sometimes seemed as if there were two
    of him. There was the one enveloped in pain and the other one who was
    observing himself and could not understand what was happening. That
    second self was the Pete I spoke to for those three years. He was
    analyzing the anguish. He was trying to figure it out. He was going to
    the best doctors. They were trying one approach after another. The
    cloud would not lift.

    I am told that one of the brutalities of the illness is the
    impossibility of articulating exactly what the pain consists of. Pete
    would give me the general truth, “Depression sucks.” But he tried
    not to burden me with the full horrors of what he was going through.
    There was a lot he didn’t tell me, at least until the end, or not at

    I never told him this, but there were moments during that hard plague
    year of 2020 that I feared that my own mind was slipping. Cheerfulness
    is my normal default state, but that year my moods could be dark and
    troubled. When your oldest friend is battling his demons, it’s
    natural to wonder about your own.

    While I’ve devoted my life to words, I increasingly felt the
    futility of words to help Pete in any meaningful way. The feeling of
    impotence was existential.

    After a while, I just tried to be normal. I just tried to be the
    easygoing friend who I always had been to him and he had been to me. I
    hoped this would slightly ease his sense of isolation. Intellectually,
    Pete knew that his wife and boys lavishly loved him, that his friends
    loved him, but he still felt locked inside the lacerating
    self-obsession that was part of the illness.

    Perhaps the most useful thing I did was send him a video. My friend
    Mike Gerson, a Washington Post columnist, had been hospitalized with
    depression in early 2019. He had delivered a beautiful sermon at the
    Washington National Cathedral about his experience before he died of
    complications of cancer last November. Depression, he said, was a
    “malfunction of the instrument we use to determine reality.” Then
    he talked about the lying voices that had taken up residence in his
    mind, spewing out their vicious clichés: You are a burden to your
    friends, you have no future, no one would miss you.

    That resonated with Pete and gave him a sense of validation. He, too,
    would describe the obsessive-compulsive voices that would attack him
    from inside his own head. Mike also talked about the fog eventually
    thinning, at the glimpse of beauty or of love, and reminded Pete that
    “there is something better on the far side of despair.”

    Still the clouds refused to lift. Jen had some wise words when I asked
    her what she learned being around him during those years. “I was
    very aware this was not the real Pete,” she said. “I tried not to
    take his periods of negativity and withdrawal personally.”

    I wish I had bombarded Pete with more small touches. Just small emails
    to let him know how much he was on my mind. Writing about his own
    depression in The Atlantic last year, Jeffrey Ruoff mentioned that his
    brother sent him over 700 postcards over the years, from all 50
    states, Central America, Canada and Asia. Those kinds of touches say:
    I’m with you. No response necessary.

    “There are moments in our lives,” Honore de Balzac wrote, “when
    the sense that our friend is near is all that we can bear. Our wounds
    smart under the consoling words that only reveal the depths of

    The years went by and medications and treatment programs continued to
    fail. Pete and Jen began to realize how little the medical community
    knows about what will work. They also began to realize that mental
    health care is shockingly siloed. Pete saw outstanding doctors who
    devoted themselves to him, but they work only within their specific
    treatment silo. When one treatment didn’t work, Pete would get
    shuttled off to some other silo to begin again. Jen recently emailed
    me that when she had a cancer recurrence, in the middle of Pete’s
    depression, she had a “tumor board” — three different cancer
    experts (a surgeon, an oncologist and a radiation oncologist) — who
    coordinated her care.

    “In our experience, there is none of this in mental health,” she
    wrote me. In many places, there is no one looking at the whole picture
    and the whole patient. “If one more mental health professional tells
    me ‘Everyone did their best,’ I will scream,” Jen wrote. “If
    this is our best, it is not nearly good enough.”

    Pete developed theories to explain why this had happened to him. He
    pointed to a series of traumas and neglect he had suffered at home as
    a child — events he had vaguely referred to during our friendship
    but had never gone into in detail with me until his final years.

    He thought part of his illness was just straight biology. Think of it
    like brain cancer, he’d say. A random physical disease. I agree with
    some of that, but I’m also haunted by the large number of
    medications doctors put him on. He always seemed to be getting on one
    or getting off another as he ran through various treatment regimens.
    His path through the mental health care system was filled with a
    scattershot array of treatments and crushing disappointments.

    Pete and his family joined us for Thanksgiving in 2021. By this point
    I was just trying to be as I always had been toward him, in hopes that
    he might be able to be as he always had been toward me. We all played
    basketball and board games and enjoyed the weekend. I felt some hope.
    But Pete appears in one of the photos that were taken that weekend,
    sitting on the couch, still-faced, enveloped in shadow. One afternoon,
    he asked my wife to pray over him in the kitchen, plaintively,
    grasping for hope.

    The experts say if you know someone who is depressed, it’s OK to ask
    explicitly about suicide. The experts emphasize that you’re not
    going to be putting the thought into the person’s head. Very often
    it’s already on her or his mind. And if it is, the person should be
    getting professional help.

    When Pete and I gestured toward the subject of suicide, we just talked
    about what a magnificent family he had, how much they all loved one
    another. Like Jen, I tried to tell him that this darkness would lift,
    though as the years went by and the therapies failed, his faith in
    this deliverance waned.

    Pete was always the braver of the two of us. He was the one who would
    go cliff diving or jump over bonfires without fear. And he was never
    more courageous than over his last three years. He fought this malady
    with astonishing courage and steadfastness against a foe that would
    bring anybody to his knees. He fought it minute by minute, day by day
    — over a thousand days. He was driven by his selfless love for his
    family, which he cherished most in the world.

    We had dinner a few days before he died. Jen and I tried to keep the
    conversation bouncing along. But, apparently, their car ride home was
    heart-rending. “How can I not be able to talk to my oldest
    friend?” Pete asked. “Brooksie can talk to people. I can’t.”

    I don’t know what he was thinking on his final day, but I have read
    that depression makes it hard to imagine a time when things will ever
    be better. I have no evidence for this, but knowing Pete as I did, I
    strongly believe that he erroneously convinced himself that he was
    doing this to help his family and ease the hardship his illness had
    caused them. Living now in the wreckage, I can tell you that if you
    ever find yourself having that thought, it is completely wrong.

    Depression can be bitterly ridiculous. Pete died a few weeks before
    his younger son’s college graduation, enmeshed by loving
    relationships and friendships.

    It’s ridiculous that we still know so little about the illness and
    how to treat it. I find it unfathomable that it’s been well over a
    century since Sigmund Freud started writing about psychology. We’ve
    had generations of scholars and scientists working in this field, and
    yet suicide rates in 2020 were 30 percent higher than they were in
    2000 and one in five American adults experiences mental illness each
    year. We need much more research funding to figure this out.

    If I’m ever in a similar situation again, I’ll know that you
    don’t have to try to coax somebody out of depression. It’s enough
    to show that you are trying to understand what this troubled soul is
    enduring. It’s enough to create an atmosphere in which the sufferer
    can share her experience. It’s enough to offer him or her the
    comfort of being seen.

    My friend Nat Eddy, who also accompanied Pete through those final
    years, wrote to me recently: “Do whatever it is you do to give the
    wives and children a break — an hour or two when they don’t have
    to worry that the worst will happen (and pray that it doesn’t happen
    on your watch, because that isn’t a given). Do whatever it is you do
    so you can look at yourself in the mirror. True friendship offers deep
    satisfactions, but it also imposes vulnerabilities and obligations,
    and to pretend it doesn’t is to devalue friendship.”

    I feel sorrow that I didn’t know enough to do this more effectively
    with Pete. I might have kept him company more soothingly. I might have
    made him better understand what he meant to me. But I do not feel

    Pete had teams of experts walking with him through this. He had his
    wonderful wife and kids, who accompanied him lovingly and steadfastly
    every day.

    I’ve talked to Jen about this. Pete used to say he found talking to
    Jen more helpful than talking to any of the experts. So there is no
    reason for any of us to feel like failures because we could not alter
    what happened. Every case of depression is unique, and every case is
    to be fought with as much love and endurance and knowledge as can be
    mustered. But in this particular case, the beast was bigger than Pete;
    it was bigger than us.

    I feel like I’ve read a lot about the grieving process for family
    members but not so much about what grieving is like when your friends
    die. Death and I were too well acquainted last year. I lost three good
    friends — Pete, Mike Gerson and my longtime “NewsHour” partner,
    Mark Shields. I’ve been surprised by how profound and lasting the
    inner aches have been.

    Pete’s death has been a cause of great disorientation. He’d been a
    presence for practically my whole life, and now the steady friendship
    I took for granted is gone. It’s as if I went to Montana and
    suddenly the mountains had disappeared.

    One great source of comfort has been the chance to glimpse, from time
    to time, how heroically Pete’s boys, Owen and James, have handled
    this loss. In their own grief, they have rallied forcefully and
    lovingly around their mother. Two months after Pete’s passing, my
    eldest son married. To my great astonishment and gratitude, Jen and
    the boys were able to make the trip to attend. At the reception, the
    boys gently coaxed their mother to join us on the dance floor. It felt
    appropriate since this is what we did at camp; dancing skeined through
    the decades of our lives. I have a sharp memory of those two fine
    young men dancing that evening, and a million memories of the parents
    who raised them so well.

    _If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach__
    __the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or go to for a list of additional

    _The Times is committed to publishing __a diversity of letters__ to
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    _Follow The New York Times Opinion section on __Facebook__, __Twitter
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    "Mi piace"

  5. @Ornella, grazie per le tue parole; sono d’accordo soprattutto sul fatto che la questione debba essere affrontata soprattutto con il contributo di specialisti; e tuttavia qui mi interessa soprattutto il contributo che amici e familiari possono dare.
    grazie ancora

    "Mi piace"

  6. Credo che la depressione derivi in gran parte dalla solitudine ( troppo rumorosa). la solitudine del proprio SE’.Quando il Se’ non è riuscito , durante il corso della propria vita,a farsi riconoscere , resta fuorigioco. Può la persona depressa tentare di emergere dal “suo” nulla ma non ci riesce quasi (?) mai.Occorre un riconoscimento ,una accettazione reale, non facile da ottenere dall’altro. Quasi impossibile uscirne.

    Piace a 1 persona

  7. Se lo vivi, lo capisci. Il mondo che ti circonda prova a darti stimoli che reputi però inutili, infantili, sciocchi. Non so cosa si possa fare, forse stare vicino, anche senza parlare, ma capire chi lo sta vivendo. Fare rumore non serve, perché chi soffre ha un tappo nelle orecchie, ti guarda, ti sente, ma non ti capisce, non si sente capito.

    "Mi piace"


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