Depression: A Feeling, Not an Illness? Tuft University Student Debate

Tufts Daily, The Independent Student Newspaper of Tufts University, recently ran two letters of interest to the Tommy Fuss Team. The first is by Evan Wecksell who makes several uninformed and biased remarks about depression. His article (below) represents many of the false stereotypes about depression currently in circulation.

A cogent and accurate response was supplied by TFT member Theresa Sullivan (following Mr. Wecksell’s piece).

February 8, 2010
How to beat ‘depression’
by Evan Wecksell

I am a Tufts alumnus who was back on campus last week while headlining Theta Chi’s Comedy Night for Haiti. I picked up a copy of the Tufts Daily in the Mayer Campus Center and found the Jan. 25 Features article by Carter Rogers, “High expectations take their toll like never before.”

While I can agree and say how hard it is and how we are surrounded by burdens and how it’s impossible to get a job, make money, etc … that just isn’t true. So I’d rather give you, my fellow Jumbos, a few pointers to help lessen the overwhelming troubles of life.

You should know your environment. It is the job of mainstream news media to make the world seem as dangerous as possible. Fortunately or unfortunately, that is what sells. If I could break news stories into three categories, they would be: problems, distractions and solutions. Their purposes are to upset, to divert and to inform, respectively. Problems have actually been upgraded to catastrophes thanks to the economic recession, which is a contraction in the marketplace and not an apocalypse. Distractions are the reason we’re stuck with Paris Hilton and forced to wonder where the “Jersey Shore” cast is going to show up next. And solutions may wait ’til page 10 of a publication when the other two categories take up the first nine.

Also, the quantity of media has grown exponentially in the past decade with the advent and expansion of the Internet and social media. That’s why terror and panic seem so rampant in our environment. Thanks so much, Ashton Kutcher, for getting in a race with CNN to see who could have one million followers first on Because the more we see tweets about bloodshed or scandal, the more unsettled we’ll feel.

I could recommend two remedies for that: Either try avoiding the news for one week and see if your mood changes, or take a walk and see for yourself how dangerous the environment is or isn’t.

You should follow your nose. At the risk of sounding like a commencement speaker, don’t let the pressure of finding a job run you ragged and don’t let that first job define your career. A career is just a series of jobs. My first job was a day camp counselor. After college my first job was an intern for the National Hockey League. Now I’m a comedian — go figure. You’re only looking for what you’re going to do next, not what you’re going to do for the next 50 years. I don’t expect to be a comedian my whole life, but plans change (or stay the same).

And don’t feel like you have to change or compromise your integrity to fit in to some company or club. It’s just like a relationship — the other person should like you for who you are. Another alternative is you could always make your own club. That’s what Bill Gates did, that’s what Tufts alum and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar (E ’88) did and that’s what Oprah Winfrey did times infinity.

It’s okay to seek out help. Communication is the universal solvent. Whether it’s making up with your parents or getting back together with your girlfriend or boyfriend, it’s all accomplished through communication. That’s why counseling can be very helpful. While at Tufts I went to the Counseling and Mental Health Service once and got through every present problem and upset I had at the time, and when I walked out of the building, I felt the weight of the world off my shoulders. Why did it work? Because someone was listening to me and acknowledging what I had to say. That was really it. It’s good to have a few people like those at a counseling center who can listen, because stuff happens.

When there are cases that can go off the rails, this is when the person in the other chair suggests what is wrong with you. However, any medical diagnosis is not the best idea; it’s one thing to have a friend offer two cents, but it’s another when you’re being told what your problem is and then it’s given a label.

Depression is a feeling, not an illness. Anyone can be in a funk, but if you’re feeling down, it doesn’t warrant you being labeled as something out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If someone has high blood pressure, that’s something clinically proven that you can treat, but if I’m sad or feeling overwhelmed, that doesn’t mean I need to be put in an arbitrary category. It may mean I need to take steps to handle my environment, whether it’s a person, a group or a situation.

Those are a few of the things I have applied to my life to keep the gloom away. Yes, the gloom sometimes returns when we don’t want it to or when our schedule overwhelms us or we’re overstressing about life’s obstacles, but it’s just gloom; it’s not us. If we let it be us, we won’t get anything done. Thankfully, we all know we are capable of getting a lot done because we all did get into Tufts in the first place.

So do the next thing ahead of you, plan accordingly and have fun when you get there.


February 10, 2010
Theresa Sullivan, Class of 2012
A Response to How to beat ‘depression’

Dear Editor:

In response to the Feb. 8 Tufts Daily article by Tufts alumnus Evan Wecksell, “How to beat ‘depression,’” I would like to address his disturbingly uninformed and false remarks about depression and how it can be treated.

I appreciate and agree with his suggestions that communication can be a helpful reliever of stressors and that those who are distressed should seek help. However, in the second half of his article, Mr. Wecksell entirely mischaracterizes depression and belittles not only depression itself but also those who experience it.

His statement that “depression is a feeling, not an illness” is hurtful and wholly false. Depression is a mental illness that affects over 24 million Americans — that’s about ten percent of our population — each year. This illness is real, and one that hurts profoundly. The feeling is not a figment of the imagination of someone merely in a funk; rather, it is the sense of worthlessness, fatigue, hopelessness and overwhelming pain that accompanies this mental illness.

Depression manifests itself with physical and mental symptoms and interferes with relationships and daily life. Depression is not treated by deciding to have fun or by getting back together with a significant other. Neither is it treated by an individual who decides “what is wrong with you.” Depression is among the most treatable of mental illnesses, but first it has to be recognized — both recognized as a real illness and identified within an individual.

When depression is labeled, the individual can then be empowered to seek help from a professional. People are then armed with the knowledge that they are not alone in their illness and that they can be treated. Professionals help individuals address their struggles, not tell them that something is wrong with them, and they are effective and helpful in ways that friends’ “two cents” cannot be. As long as depression is viewed as a feeling or a funk that someone can choose to snap out of and not as a real, treatable mental illness, those with depression will continue to suffer in silence.

Like millions of other Americans and college students, I have felt how depression harms relationships and wreaks havoc and pain upon those who experience it. I have watched and helped as friends and acquaintances have sought treatment for depression, and I have known the unquantifiable pain of losing my best friend to suicide. Lives are not lost to funks and feelings.

I understand that Mr. Wecksell’s article was perhaps only meant to help those with post-graduate or financial stresses gain some perspective and to encourage them to take steps to relieve themselves of their stressors. I support this intention. However, in trying to accomplish this goal, Mr. Wecksell belittled and dismissed a real illness that seriously impacts members of the Tufts community and the world at large. To characterize depression as a simple funk and to suggest that treatment is a useless process of judgment is not only ignorant but hurtful and destructive. I hope the Daily will reconsider publishing such harmful misinformation in the future.