Depression (5×8 – 7/27/11)

People who matter, Westover v. Quimby, for the love of a cougar woman, a fight at the beach, the economy in song, and the worst umpire call this season.


The death of Amy Winehouse, whose funeral was held yesterday, isn’t the story of a popular singer silenced, it’s not the story of whether she glorified alcohol and drug abuse, and it’s not the story of whether she should get any attention at all. The story of Amy Winehouse is that she’s like thousands and thousands of other people struggling with some sort of mental illness, who face the additional hardship — at least while they’re still alive –of trying to find a reason why their life matters in the first place.

Max Sparber, writing at MinnPost, has done a marvelous job of giving voice to the tragedy here: In 2011, people still have to explain why people with depression have an illness…

I expect that people who won’t shed a tear for Winehouse see her as the agent in her own death, and this is why they compare her to Oslo, where a man with a gun killed 80 or more people, none of whom had done anything to deserve their fate. But I see a killer in Winehouse’s death as well, and one that has moved through rock and roll history, and moves through the world. Depression leads to suicide in about 15 percent of the people who have it, and depression is the reported cause of over two-thirds of the deaths by suicide each year. It’s difficult to determine how many people with depression die from related causes, such as substance abuse, but the toll is enormous. Worse still, it can be very difficult to get diagnosed and treated for depression without insurance, and even with insurance, multiple studies show that most adult Americans with mental disorders do not receive any treatment for their symptoms. According to British health economist Richard Layard in 2006, conditions were much the same in Great Britain, and I cannot find evidence they have improved.

So we can see the story of Amy Winehouse as being one of a drug addict who shrugged off every effort to help her and wound up with an entirely unsurprising early death, and I can see why this might not encourage sympathy or grief. Or we can see her as a victim of mental illness in a society that doesn’t understand or respond to mental illness with great effectiveness.

What can we do to help people who suffer — that term is used for a reason — with depression? Giving a darn is a good start.

Sadly, we have so many opportunities to do so. Speedy Peterson won a silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

This week he shot himself to death in a Utah canyon. He was abused as a child. His sister was killed by a drunk driver. He witnesses the suicide of a friend. He struggled with alcohol.


People who follow NewsCut on Twitter (and, for the record, please don’t if you tend to take the world entirely seriously) know that for more than a year, I’ve advocated that some smart media organization somewhere give Charlie Quimby and Craig Westover a show or column. Their exchanges on Twitter — Quimby to the left and Westover to the right — are punctuated by respect, facts, and the ability to make you think even if you think you disagree with one of them.

In other words: They’re what everyone says they want in political discourse in this country.

No media organization has yet stepped forward to take my sage advice, but this week Quimby is hosting the discussions on his long-time blog, “Across The Great Divide.”

Their first exchange — posted last Friday — discussed a Star Tribune article about a woman who kept her daycare center running for low-income people, even though the state shutdown prevented her from being paid.

Here’s Quimby:

As a regular volunteer working in child care, I was not surprised by their compassion. But I wondered how people like Williams would be regarded through the prism of libertarian economics.

As MNGOP communications man Craig Westover continually reminds us: Government cannot do anything for anybody until it first takes the resources from the private sector that produces the wealth that makes compassion possible.

My first inclination was to draw some snide lessons from this. For example, will smaller government really inspire the private market to provide low-cost childcare so low income parents can search for work and hold jobs?

And Westover counters:

Roxanne Williams is able to provide the service she does – even at her own expense – because there are millions of people going to work everyday to produce products and deliver services (and pay taxes) that ultimately provide her the resources (not just money) that make her service possible. These people go to work for their own reasons and not to help low-income parents find daycare. Yet one of the consequences of their action is Roxanne Williams can provide daycare. Without their effort producing wealth, Roxanne Williams can’t provide daycare.

And back and forth they’ve gone a few times along the lines of a local Brooks and Shields. with nary a personal insult along the way.

It’s well worth reading and, when the opportunity presents itself, emulating.



A cougar, once spotted in a Twin Cities suburb, has been killed in Connecticut. Connecticut. How is that possible? Think of all the obstructions between here and Connecticut. Lake Michigan or Huron. Chicago. Cleveland. Even humans don’t survive Cleveland. It may be the the longest recorded journey by a land mammal in history, the BBC says. And it ended in Milford, Connecticut when he got hit by a car.

As long as a cougar can find deer to eat, they’ll be fine. But unless they can find a woman, they keep moving. It must be tough being a cougar guy in Minnesota when you have to walk to Connecticut to find love.


This video is starting to make some noise on the Internet, allegedly because those involved in an incident at a Minneapolis park contend it’s police brutality. Is it? Warning: Not suitable for the workplace.


Ryan Stotland and Kyle Thompson-Westra met while studying economics at Tufts University. Their passion for economics matched their passion for music. So they formed a group and started writing and playing music about the economy.

They have an inexhaustible supply of material…

Their group –The Bull and the Bears — donates a portion of the sales of their music to a homeless coalition.

Here’s one story today they could put to song: People in New York who scavenge for aluminum cans. “In your own neighborhood, people look at you and say you can do better,” on scavenger says. “I figure, it’s $10 an hour, fast-food wages. My relatives don’t know. Everyone on this planet has pride.”

Bonus: Last night, the Pirates and Braves played 19 innings. The game ended when the umpire took the 19th inning off.


President Obama seeks a tax hike to help cut the deficit, but 277 members of the U.S. House and Senate have pledged to oppose any tax increase. Today’s Question: Should public officials sign a pledge that limits their options in office?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: The effectiveness of antidepressants and psychiatry.

Second hour: Living with migraines.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: TBA

Second hour: TBA

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: NPR political editor Ken Rudin discusses the debt crisis.

Second hour: The UN calls it the worst food crisis in a generation. Millions of East Africans are threatened by drought and hunger. NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton from East Africa, and Ted Koppell, on limited options.