“The revelation that Owen Wilson may be afflicted with a physiological vulnerability to the downward pull — to the sort of self- annihilating impulse best described in William Styron‘s Darkness Visible — simultaneously fascinates us and causes us to avert our gaze,” writes Daphne Merkin in Sunday’s [9.16] N.Y. Times.

“However you parse Wilson’s desperate act, it is clear that in an instant-fix, cure-all culture — one in which we habitually reduce fraught real-life dramas into smart-alecky quips on late-night talk shows — we want instant-fix, cure-all answers. Addiction and recovery sagas are by now more boring than heartrending, but they go down smoothly and are media-pleasing.

“[And yet] the romance of melancholy — a style of self-presentation marked by an appealing air of ennui — has been with us since Hamlet. It is perhaps best expressed in the opening of Chekhov‘s The Seagull, when Masha, asked why she always wears black, replies, ‘I am in mourning for my life.’ But a poetic conception that tethers creativity to a despondent temperament is also misleading, discounting as it does how unproductively crippling the malady can be.

“Depression — the real hard stuff — is not chic, and it doesn’t sell tickets. It is a clinical illness urgently requiring treatment, usually hit-or-miss medication that tinkers with serotonin or dopamine levels. I am referring to the sort of condition that subverts lives, making it difficult to talk to people and impossible to leave the house. At its worst, it can spiral into the sort of suicidal ideation that requires hospitalization, or into suicide.”