Depression, the secret we share | Andrew Solomon | Summary and Q&A

December 18, 2013
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Depression, the secret we share | Andrew Solomon


Depression is a complex and misunderstood condition that affects individuals in different ways, and in this talk, the speaker explores the nuances of depression and the journey towards resilience and appreciation for life.

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Key Insights

  • 🔮 Depression can be conveyed through metaphors and art, such as language and images, allowing for a deeper understanding of the condition.
  • 😔 The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, which can seep away, making even simple tasks feel overwhelming.
  • ❗ Depression is often recognized as ridiculous even by those experiencing it, yet it holds a powerful grip, making it difficult to find a way out.
  • 😰 Anxiety can accompany depression, creating a constant feeling of fear and an overwhelming sense of dread.
  • 📞 Communication and support from loved ones can play a crucial role in helping individuals with depression.
  • 💔 Grief, depression, and sadness can often be confused, but their trajectory and duration can help differentiate them.
  • 💡 Resilience is a defining factor in managing depression, and those who can tolerate their condition tend to fare better.
  • 🏙️ Depression affects individuals from all backgrounds, including the indigent, who often lack access to proper treatment and care.


"I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, and Mourners to and fro kept treading -- treading -- till [it seemed] that Sense was breaking through -- And when they all were seated, a Service, like a Drum -- kept beating -- beating -- till I [thought] my Mind was going numb -- And then I heard them lift a Box and creak across my Soul with those same Boots of Lea... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did the speaker first realize they were experiencing depression?

The speaker realized they were experiencing depression in 1994 when they found themselves losing interest in things they previously enjoyed and feeling a lack of vitality.

Q: What is the opposite of depression according to the speaker?

The opposite of depression, according to the speaker, is not happiness, but vitality.

Q: How did the speaker's anxiety manifest itself during their depression?

The speaker's anxiety manifested as a constant feeling of fear and a sensation of being afraid all the time without knowing the cause.

Q: How did the speaker perceive themselves during their depression?

The speaker perceived themselves as being in a state of nullity, feeling less motivated and engaged with the world.

Q: What did the speaker realize about depression and its treatments?

The speaker realized that depression is a complex condition that cannot be fully explained by either chemical or psychological treatments, and that the current treatments available for depression are not very effective, costly, and come with numerous side effects.

Q: How did the speaker view depression in relation to love?

The speaker viewed depression as the flaw in love, as it is the anticipation of loss and the specter of despair that can lead to a deeper sense of intimacy.

Q: What are the differences between depression, grief, and sadness?

Grief is a reactive emotion to a loss, sadness is a normal emotional state, while depression is excessive sadness and grief that lasts for a prolonged period and may be triggered by specific circumstances.

Q: What did the speaker learn about resilience and depression?

The speaker learned that the ability to tolerate and accept their depression is key to resilience. Those who deny or suppress their depression tend to be more enslaved by it, while those who can tolerate and face it are more likely to experience resilience.


In this video, the speaker discusses her personal experience of depression and the societal understanding and treatment of the condition. She explores the complex nature of depression, its impact on individuals, and the various factors that contribute to resilience. The speaker also delves into the stigma surrounding mental health and the need for improved understanding and treatment options. Overall, she emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and accepting one's own experiences with depression in order to find meaning and vitality in life.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does the speaker describe her personal experience with depression?

The speaker describes her experience of depression as a gradual loss of interest and vitality in almost everything. She explains how simple tasks and social interactions became overwhelming and burdensome. Despite knowing that her thoughts and feelings were irrational, she felt trapped and unable to find a way to overcome her depression.

Q: What is the relationship between depression and anxiety according to the speaker?

The speaker explains that depression and anxiety often coexist and can exacerbate each other. While depression is characterized by a lack of energy and motivation, anxiety is characterized by a constant state of fear and agitation. The speaker shares her own experience of feeling anxious all the time without knowing the cause, which further intensified her depression.

Q: How did the speaker's perspective on her own resilience change over time?

Initially, the speaker believed she was a resilient person who could overcome any challenging circumstances. However, when faced with persistent depression, she began questioning her own resilience and sense of identity. She came to realize that resilience is not solely determined by one's ability to survive extreme conditions but also by the ongoing effort to manage and cope with mental health issues.

Q: What does the speaker say about the effectiveness of treatments for depression?

The speaker acknowledges that current treatments for depression are far from ideal. She describes them as expensive, ineffective for some individuals, and often accompanied by numerous side effects. However, she expresses gratitude for the progress made in mental health treatment compared to the past. She hopes that future advancements will render current treatments primitive and inspire new, more effective approaches.

Q: How does the speaker challenge the perception of depression among the indigent population?

The speaker highlights the lack of attention and treatment for depression among impoverished individuals. She argues that depression is not limited to any particular social or economic group and can affect anyone. The speaker shares the story of a research project that successfully treated depression among indigent women, demonstrating the importance of addressing mental health issues within marginalized communities.

Q: What insight does the speaker gain through her exploration of alternative treatments?

The speaker discovers that alternative treatments, even if unconventional, can have value if they improve an individual's well-being and alleviate depression symptoms. She becomes more open-minded and tolerant toward alternative treatments, recognizing that the subjective experience of feeling better is the ultimate goal in treating depression.

Q: How does the speaker challenge the notion of depression as a natural part of life?

The speaker argues that although mood variations are a natural part of the human experience, major depression is a maladaptive condition that requires intervention. She compares depression to a rust spot on a fence, explaining that while some rust may be normal, an overwhelming accumulation of rust signifies a problem that needs to be addressed.

Q: How does the speaker advocate for better understanding and treatment of depression?

The speaker emphasizes the need to combat the stigma surrounding depression and to encourage open communication about mental health. She urges society to recognize the value of treatment and the importance of accepting and understanding one's own experiences with depression. She also calls for improved access to mental health services, particularly for marginalized populations.

Q: What does the speaker say about the relationship between depression and resilience?

The speaker suggests that those who can tolerate and accept their depression are more likely to achieve resilience. By acknowledging their condition and seeking treatment, individuals can learn to live with their depression and find meaning in their experiences. Resilience, in this context, is not about ignoring or suppressing depression but rather embracing it as a part of one's life journey.

Q: How does the speaker conclude her talk?

The speaker concludes by reflecting on her personal journey with depression. She expresses gratitude for the lessons it has taught her and the opportunity to experience joy and meaning in life. She emphasizes the importance of valuing one's own experiences and finding reasons to live, even in the face of depression. The speaker encourages others to seek meaning in their struggles and to see depression as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.


Depression is a complex and debilitating condition that affects individuals in different ways. The society's understanding and treatment of depression need improvement. There is a need to break the stigma surrounding mental health and to provide better access to effective treatments. Resilience can be developed by acknowledging and accepting one's own experiences with depression. Alternative treatments should be considered alongside conventional approaches. It is crucial to communicate openly about depression and to support marginalized communities in accessing mental health services. Depression should not be seen as a natural part of life, but rather as a condition that requires intervention and treatment. Through acceptance and finding meaning, individuals can experience joy and vitality, even in the presence of depression.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Depression is a serious and debilitating illness that can lead to feelings of numbness, hopelessness, and even suicidal thoughts. It is not just sadness, but a loss of vitality.

  • Treatment for depression is essential, but often inaccessible to those who need it the most, particularly those in impoverished communities.

  • While depression can be a lifelong struggle, finding meaning and purpose in the experience can lead to resilience and a more vital, fulfilling life.

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