Thank you, Bruce Springsteen. You’ve been the ultimate musical hero to millions of music lovers, and a populist hero to work-a-day Americans, whose dreams, needs, and concerns you’ve given voice to in songs that speak to every generation.
Now you’re a hero for a different reason; you’ve got us talking about depression. Not just the “I’m depressed today” kind of depression, but the kind that locks you in a dark closet of isolation and despair and doesn’t let you out.
Springteen spoke out about depression to David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, in an epic 15,000-word feature that has Remnick shadowing Springsteen for months, engaging in deeply intimate conversations along the way. Remnick spoke with Springsteen’s wife, singer Patti Scialfa, and his bandmates, as well as the 62-year-old rock star himself.
So why am I jumping on the bandwagon and adding yet another voice to the coverage? Because when the Boss talks about struggling with suicidal thoughts, a painful childhood, a family history of mental illness, and a decades-long struggle with clinical depression, it opens doors. Doors to a discussion that for some reason America is still having trouble having.
Honestly, at this point I don’t know why depression is still something we hide. But it is. And so are other types of mental illness, some more “acceptable” to admit to than others, but all considered something shameful, rarely to be discussed with friends, neighbors, coworkers. (And don’t even mention prospective employers. Let’s be honest, many of us seek mental health treatment privately – despite the fact that we have insurance to pay for it — because we don’t want there to be any chance our workplace could find out.)
And it’s too bad, because depression — and its dark stepchild, suicide — desperately needs to be talked about. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 10 Americans has diagnosable depression, and six percent of the population reported being treated for a major depressive episode in the past 12 months.
Today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. Did you know that? Almost no one does, it seems. Even in communities like mine, where teen suicide tragedies have made headlines every year for the past five years, the subject is met with hushed comments and quick changes of subject.
Then there’s the difficult subject of other mental illnesses – and Bruce took that on. too. He told Remnick his father was bipolar, but frequently discontinued taking medication, leading him subject to episodes of rage that were very frightening for Springsteen as a young boy.
If you don’t think I’m right in saying our society still stigmatizes mood disorders and other types of mental illness, look at the kinds of personal challenges we regularly share, and those we don’t.
For example, in a recent support group I attended, women suffering from eating disorders discussed how they’re more comfortable telling friends and schoolmates that they’ve been hospitalized for anorexia or bulimia than for bipolar disorder or depression. (And yes, in case you can’t tell, I’m owning up to my own family tree which includes depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and anxiety disorders.)
If you don’t believe me, ask those who’ve been “5150-ed” for suicidal thinking or a suicide attempt whether they’ve told friends about the incident, or lied about where they were.
Another thing that distinguishes Springsteen’s admission from the routine celebrity drama of the week is that he’s a man. And while women are often at least somewhat public about depression (i.e. Brooke Shields) , men are not.
And, of course, Bruce Springsteen is not just any man. He’s known as The Boss for a reason – this is no modern “metrosexual” or even a man we’d describe as “sensitive.” Springsteen is a tough, street-smart, rowdy rocker who came up from the back alleys of Jersey and chose music (or music chose him) because he decided he’d rather have a guitar in his hand than a weapon.
And yet here he is, admitting that he’s been in therapy since the early 1980s, when sudden fame slammed him with a tidal wave of doubt, insecurity, and darkness. And here’s his wife, Patti Scialfa (a formidable singer-songwriter in her own right), saying that it’s been easier then you might think to support her husband through his troubles because she suffers from depression too. So come on, people, how about us — are we ready to talk about depression and suicide too?