Posted by: jedwardswright | June 2, 2010

Depression and an Uptown Girl: Alexa Ray Joel Comes Forward

When I saw an article in People’s May 17th magazine revealing Alexa Ray Joel’s struggles with depression, I was impressed. Every time someone in the public’s eye comes forward to tell the world, “Yes, I have depression,” there is a chance that a little bit of understanding and compassion will be cultivated, and a little bit of ignorance dispelled.

Ms. Joel is quite clear about her motivation in going public with her difficulties. People even put in large bold letters her statement that she came forward because “I want young men and women to feel they’re not alone in depression.”

As well, her father Billy Joel, the article states, “has been open about his bouts of depression and 1970 suicide attempt,” establishing a precedent that his only child has chosen to follow. Apparently frankness, as well as depression, runs in the family. Perhaps, I thought, just perhaps, the possibility that depression is a biological problem which is inherited might begin to dawn on People’s readers.

Then this week, the June 7th issue featured two letters to the editor about Ms. Joel. One, by Debra Grulick, praised Alexa for her candid interview and called her “a great role model for young women today.” Wonderful! Here was someone with an enlightened viewpoint about depression coming forward to support this brave, yet vulnerable young lady.

Unfortunately, the second letter left me fuming. Leslie Balzar of Doylestown, Pa. thought Alexa needed a reality check, and hastened to provide it. She wrote,

Ms. Joel should stop feeling sorry for herself and put an end to all the drama. It might behoove her parents to take their daughter outside her cocoon so she can spend some time in the real world, where people her age often must cope with stressful things like unemployment and crime. Alexa needs to appreciate all that she’s been blessed with.

Apparently this letter-writer doesn’t understand the difference between a spoiled brat and a young person suffering from a medical problem. Neither Alexa Joel nor her parents caused her to have this condition, nor would exposure to “the real world” cure it. Major Depressive Disorder is a recognized mental illness which usually responds to professional treatment, which Alexa is now receiving.

Cruel remarks about her upbringing and mind-set are not only counter-productive to Ms. Joel’s recovery, but also discourage others from revealing their depression to families and friends. By reinforcing the negative stigma surrounding the condition, Leslie Balzar has helped to undo some of the good accomplished by Alexa Joel’s willingness to share.

Alexa Ray Joel is to be applauded for her frankness in revealing her struggle with depression, not derided as a poor little rich girl. What Leslie Balzar and much of society fails to understand is that clinical depression is a medical condition, not an attitude. No one would blame Ms. Joel if she had diabetes or any other chronic health problem, and neither should she be criticized for having depression.

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