Paul Krugman and Leonard Cohen on Depression and Depression

Paul Krugman Mellencamp has finally uttered the words.  We’re in a Depression.  His Sunday NYT piece, “Depression and Democracy,” is here.

Elsewhere, Leonard Cohen has shared about Depression and Depression:

LC: Well, you know, there’s depression and depression. What I mean by depression in my own case is that depression isn’t just the blues. It’s not just like I have a hangover in the weekend… the girl didn’t show up or something like that, it isn’t that. It’s not really depression, it’s a kind of mental violence which stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next. You lose something somewhere and suddenly you’re gripped by a kind of angst of the heart and of the spirit…

– Leonard Cohen, French interview (trans. Nick Halliwell)

It’s hard to be hopeful about the world economic situation.  But Cohen’s kind of depression — God, he’s right on, isn’t he, about there being different kinds? — the kind of mental violence, the kind that stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next, the kind that grips you and won’t be shaken off without time and effort and help…maybe you see yourself in that.  Unwanted thoughts, irrational compulsions, excessive guilt.

For years, I looked to Cohen’s quote and thought, well, shit, this is the condition of artist. I found out later that it’s also the condition of millions of people who, in addition to being sensitive, winsome, and artistic, also happen to not produce enough serotonin on their own.  For many, such is the biology of general anxiety, OCD, and other depressions.  If that’s you, please know there is help.  If you don’t know if that’s you, please see a trusted physician and find out.  A friend of mine said it best: “no one should have to suffer because of their biochemistry.”  We’d never suggest a diabetic go without insulin.  We’d never expect a diabetic without the right help to function in healthy ways, let alone thrive.  Any physician worth her salt will tell you  it’s the same with the way our brains process the presence or death of chemicals our bodies are making as best they can.  Beloved, God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  A righteous mind.

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5 comments

  1. As a admirer of Leonard Cohen and as a psychiatrist, I’ve been interested in the depression that plagued most of his life. By the 1950s, Cohen, then in his late teens, was experiencing signs and symptoms of depression, a disorder from which his mother also suffered. This condition persisted until the late 1990s when the despondency spontaneously remitted. More details about this aspect of Leonard Cohen’s life, including more quotes from him about the nature of his depression can be found at “Leonard Cohen’s List Of Pharmaceuticals Joke & His Not At All Funny Depression” http://1heckofaguy.com/2009/04/30/leonard-cohens-list-of-pharmaceuticals-joke-his-not-at-all-funny-depresion/

  2. I read Krugman’s piece around the time I visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum and started reading Shirer’s “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. The most ‘depressing’ part of Krugman’s article is that the streak of authoritarianism latent in European society (in Austria, Russian, and of course Belarus) may flare up with prolonged economic troubles. And we all know where that may lead.

    But that’s only part of the story. I feel like the Western world needs a new paradigm to understand the 2010s. We keep comparing present challenges to past mindsets–the recent recession to the Great Depression, global warming to the Ice Age, the War on Terror to the Vietnam War, the rise of China to the Cold War–and this may be preventing us from understanding current events afresh.

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