Views & Reviews Medical Classics

Darkness Visible

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 16 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4748
  1. Andrew Moscrop, clinical researcher, Department of Primary Health Care, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 4UP
  1. andrewmoscrop{at}

Lyrical eloquence and lucid self examination are not features of depression. Thought processes, William Styron tells us in Darkness Visible, become muddied in the “grey drizzle of horror.” Recounting the story of his mental illness, Styron recalls his “torpid indifference” to a dinner party arranged by his wife, at which friends “politely ignore” his “catatonic muteness.” Depression is “indescribable,” a “despair beyond despair” that destroys your ability to communicate. Only if it were otherwise could those experiencing the disease “depict for their friends and loved ones (even their physicians) some of the actual dimensions of their torment.”

The best selling, Pulitzer prize winning novelist Styron offers a literary self portrait of the depression that “took full possession” of him in …

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