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Professing with Depression


I just read an excellent article by an MIT professor, Prof. John Belcher. He describes his decent into full-on clinical depression, and his inspiring recovery with the assistance of modern medicine (yay science!). I found it enlightening and reassuring to read his harrowing tale

It was the perfect storm. My physical coordination went. My thought processes became disordered. I had a hard time, for example, simply reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I became lethargic, and had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. Sleeping all the time seemed like a good option. I retained a certain detachment as I was sinking into depression. “So this is what it feels like to become clinically depressed” I would say to myself.


I also learned that there is a big difference from the acute anxiety that I suffer from, and the crushing depression that can cause a person to hole up in their house, unable to face the challenges of day-to-day life. I've seen it happen in my family, my friends and the people around me in academia. It's a real problem and it impedes progress in our field. We must face this source of inefficiency (and unhappiness) in our community. The most effective thing we can all do is to start to de-stigmatize mental health problems and the medication that solves them. 

...This term I am teaching in and co-administering 8.02, a class with 830 students, along with Peter A. Dourmashkin ’76. We both know from long experience that it is statistically inevitable that a handful of our 8.02 students will get into trouble this term, with their own perfect storm, and that clinical depression is one of the possible outcomes. I am no doctor, but I do recognize the symptoms of depression. If a student comes to me with troubles of any kind, I always tell them to go to S3 or Mental Health. In case depression is the cause of the trouble, I also share with them that I have been clinically depressed and am on Prozac, and that there is no shame in that. 
We should all be thankful that we live in this day and age, when these medications and treatments are available. We should not avoid them. In the words of Grace Taylor, “It’s not you, it’s a disease.”

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