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Turn sands of depression into pearls of creativity   

2012-04-09 09:32:00|  分类: English |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Stress seems to be birthmark of this century, and sustained stress can easily develop into depression.

A Jiangsu girl calling herself "Zoufan" wrote on her micro blog: "I have depression, therefore I will go ahead and die. Do not make a big fuss about my departure. Bye." Netizens and the police took this seriously and tried to save her, but to no avail. At around the same time, Professor Cao Tingbing, chair of the Chemistry Department of Renmin University of China jumped from a roof killing himself. He was also reported to have depression.

These two cases show the severity of the issue in China. Depression may be on the increase for the growing middle classes in China. Those who work indoors seem more likely to develop symptoms.

When I first came to the United States, I found that most universities have counseling services offering advice about various mental health problems, some of which I had never heard of. Many mental diseases in China are not labeled, identified and properly treated.

While recommending medical intervention, experts also encourage self-help treatments for patients with borderline cases of depression. Patients are advised to exercise, go out into the sun, take vacations, find support groups or have more sleep. Some methods are simple but effective, for instance, painting interior walls into brighter colors in a place with frequent rain.

It is also desirable to treat the mental health problems with creative methods. Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, says that there can be abundant creativity "out of the blue", and melancholy can sharpen the mind. "People who are successful creators - especially writers - are anywhere between eight and 40 times more likely to suffer from bipolar depression than the general public." Leher advises that creative professionals produce in their "manic" moments, while editing or perfecting their work when moods swing to lows. If writers can surf on these highs and lows of moods, melancholy can turn into a fountain of productivity.

Writer Herman Melville is a case in point. According to Clare Dolman of Kings College and Sarah Turvey of Roehampton University, both in the UK, Moby Dick is a result of Melville's bipolar disorder. When Melville suffered from depression, he would go to the sea as a "substitute for pistol and ball". When he was in a more manic, productive state, he would pour his thoughts into writing. According to Dolman and Turvey, other creative people who were bipolar include the poets William Blake, Samuel Coleridge, and Sylvia Plath; the authors F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf; the artists Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch and Jackson Pollock; and the composers Edward Elgar, Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Robert Schumann. A substantial portion of humanity's artistic achievement would be wiped out if these geniuses had not channeled their internal struggles into something productive and beautiful.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that it is good to be depressed, or that all depressed people will be artists. I do find, however, that many have attempted artistic therapies for depression, with varying degrees of success. In the US, it is common to see poetry, painting, music and other creative pursuits being used to treat depression. Dutch scholars use "creative reminiscence" to treat depression in the elderly with good results. Another interesting case is Kseniya Simonova, a Ukrainian artist who developed severe depression after she gave birth. She started doing sand animation as therapy and this creative avenue led her to win Ukraine's Got Talent in 2009. She became an instant Internet sensation and has since performed all over the world.

While reflecting on the tragic deaths of the two depressed individuals in China, I would encourage others with similar struggles to face the problem and seek help and appropriate solutions. The silver lining is that you may turn your inner darkness into fine ink to paint or write. As a Chinese saying suggests, learn from mollusks: tormented by grains of sand, mollusks turn them into pearls.


(China Daily 04/07/2012 page5)

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