Being sad is a normal part of living. Occasionally, we go through experiences that wound our self-esteem, or we experience loss as in death or failed relationships or even loss of material possessions as in theft of a piece of jewellery that was very important to us because we worked very hard to be able to afford it or perhaps it was given as a gift by a close relative. We, as humans are built to withstand these things and move past them but more often than not, we are overcome and we break down. When this happens to someone, they are said to be clinically depressed. Someone that is clinically depressed often experiences feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness. Clinical depression, however, is a treatable medical condition. The goal of this paper is to shed light on the issue of mental health and depression using Sherman Alexie’s ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian’ and information from previously conducted research on the subject. And how this issue is applicable to us all in this time and day.
As is seen in the introduction, depression can be caused by an injury to one’s self-esteem. The feeling of worthlessness comes along with the intense sadness that lasts for many days stretching out weeks that stop the person from functioning normally. As a boy, the part-time Indian in Alexie’s novel clearly suffers from poor self-esteem. He does not attach great value to himself. For example, he uses a tone full of contempt and uses very mean words to describe himself as a young boy, ‘…weirdo me, I was born with too much grease inside my skull and it got all thick and muddy and disgusting…’ (p.3). This, along with other things that he says about himself are an indication that he has a very low sense of self-worth. His self-esteem is also very low because he does not think that he is important or that anyone would care to find out what he has to offer and therefore looks for ways to capture the attention of people with his drawings. (p.6). One of his drawings is of a skinny boy with a large head and feet and glasses, presumably himself and his speech has a stutter and a lisp. In another drawing, the same boy is calling out to unseen people saying ‘LOVE ME’ (p.9). This is a sign of low self-esteem and low self-worth which in turn are signs of depression.
Another symptom of depression is a depressed mood for most of the day, especially in the morning. This state of depression continues every day or nearly every day for a long time. Sometimes it lasts for up to or even more than two weeks. These feelings of intense sadness are accompanied by other feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness. In the novel, the part-time Indian shows many signs of being hopeless, helpless and worthless. As Mr P tells him how his sister writes short stories similar to the romance novels she reads in secret, his mind wanders off to his father and his mother and he thinks about what they do on a regular basis. Finally, he is resigned to the fact that his whole family is depressed and there is nothing he can do to help any of them (p.55). He shows feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, both signs of depression. He shows an indication of feeling worthless when Mr P tells him that he is the smartest kid in school but he didn’t feel smart. Later on in his conversation with Mr P, Junior questions why his best friend, Rowdy has been good to him throughout their childhood when all the while he has been mean to other children their age (p. 57). This is another indication of Junior’s feeling worthless. He does not feel he deserves the friendship and compassion shown to him by Rowdy. These are a few of the symptoms that manifest clinical depression but like we see earlier, in the introduction, clinical depression or major depression as it is otherwise known, is a treatable condition.
Some of the ways through which clinical depression can be treated include psychotherapy, hospitalisation, medications, Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and Repetitive Trans cranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), and self-help. Of these treatments, psychotherapy is the most common. When combined with medication, it yields, the quickest and strongest results. Treatment for depression however takes time and therefore requires patients from all parties that are involved. Like medications for depression, a patient may have to try working with a different therapist at the first few attempts in order to get the best fit. Once the patient is on a regular treatment schedule, modern psychotherapy treatment for depression may last between six months to twelve months, further reiterating the need for patience when going through this course of treatment or supporting a loved one through it.
There are various types of Psychotherapy treatments although the individual and group approaches are both used depending on the severity of the depression within a person’s community. For the effective treatment of depression, cognitive-behavioural therapy is the most common and preferred therapy. This approach consists quite a few useful and simple techniques. These concentrate on the internal dialogue of a person’s mind. Further, It focuses on what can be done by the person at the present time to aid in improving the feelings thety are experiencing presently. The first few sessions are to create a conducive and supportive environment that encourages positivity and reinforcement for the patient. The patient is then taken through the fact that depression is mostly caused by faulty thinking processes like ‘all or nothing’ thinking, ‘misattribution of blame’, ‘overgeneralisation’ among others. The patient is encouraged to study their thought patterns and discussion of these thoughts is emphasised.
In the novel, Junior is irritated by the circumstance in which he finds himself; he is excited about starting high school but when hi geometry teacher comes into the classroom and passes the books they are to use, Junior happens to get the book his mother used about thirty years back and for some reason, this vexes him. He gets up with the book intending to throw it and accidentally hits Mr P with it. He is then suspended from school (p.42, 43, 45). While on suspension, Mr P comes to visit him while his parents are out at work. The geometry teacher speaks to him about various issues such as hi sister, his best friend Rowdy and about himself and the predicament they and everyone else on the reservation is facing. He encourages Junior to consider his thoughts and think of measures he can take to change his current predicament to bring a more positive outcome. They come to the conclusion that Junior must leave the reservation and when Mr P leaves, Junior remains behind thinking about his life for a long time before his parents return. This is a layman recreation of the cognitive behavioural approach where the patient is encouraged to probe their mind for thought on how to get out of the depression that they find themselves in thus impacting even their emotions in a positive manner.
Emotions are also given focus for a time during the therapy but for this approach, it is believed that the thoughts going through the patients mind are more likely to impact the emotions than actively attempting to carry out a post-mortem analysis of the reason behind a patient feeling the way they are. This is the reason why the cognitive-behavioural approach is a short term approach that mostly takes about twelve sessions and is the best option for people fairly distressed by their depression. Those patients who can approach their problems directly or have unique ways of looking at issues are also better suited for this kind of approach.
In conclusion, the novel ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian’ serves in this paper to discuss and illustrate the issue of mental health and more specifically, depression as was intended. The causes have been observed as injury to one’s self-esteem, or loss in one way or the other. Symptoms have been discussed as feelings of intense sadness accompanied by feelings of being worthless and hopeless, helpless and also irritability and restlessness. Depression however is a treatable medical condition a this article discusses on treatment method in particular; that is the cognitive-behavioural approach in which the person suffering from depression is encouraged to observe their own thought patterns and figure out ways in which they can improve their mental state. This method of treatment also serves to impact the emotions of the patient and relieve the distress that comes with the anxious feelings and intense sadness.
Alexie, Sherman. The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007.
Morgan, D. “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse.” Psychotherapy Research 13.1 (2003): 123-125.
Panel, Depression Guideline. “Depression in Primary Care (Volume 2: Treatment of Major Depression).” (1993).
Seligman, Martin EP. Helplessness: On depression, development, and death. WH Freeman/Times Books/Henry Holt & Co, 1975