Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mad Men, Sad Men

I recently read a great profile of Mad Men's Jon Hamm in The Guardian, where (in stark contrast to Don Draper) he talks a lot about some formative, painful experiences early in life, including struggles with clinical depression for which he took medication.

Since I'm not a regular reader of The Guardian, I became aware of it through references in several other media outlets. An article on CNN referencing the Guardian profile all expressed surprise at Hamm's depression, since he plays such a "dapper, suave" character on TV.

I'm not sure if this writer has actually watched Mad Men, but it seems pretty obvious to me from the show that Hamm has a very deep understanding of the insecurity and self-loathing that people who suffer from clinical depression are able to successfully hide behind a confident exterior. Hamm is not Don Draper, but he clearly knows that man very well. (He says that the character is based, in part, on his father)

I've like Jon Hamm ever since I saw him host SNL. I was already a fan of Man Men, but I gained a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person when he was willing to make jokes about the very thing that made him famous, never mind demonstrating his range as an actor. He doesn't take himself too seriously, which enables him to be so good at what he does.

I hope that Jon Hamm's openness about his struggles help clear away the stigma associated with mental illness. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you need help, and doing so does not make you weak or less manly. One of the best decisions I ever made was to admit I had a problem I couldn't control, ask for help and to allow others to help me get better.

Hamm's comments on anti-depressant medication are helpful, too: "And honestly? Antidepressants help! If you can change your brain chemistry enough to think: 'I want to get up in the morning; I don't want to sleep until four in the afternoon. I want to get up and go do my (stuff) and go to work and…' Reset the auto-meter, kick-start the engine!" Anti-depressants don't change your personality. They take the edge off enough so you can talk yourself through the low moments, so you can will yourself to get out of bed and go live your life.

Jon Hamm doesn't need to become the national spokesman for NAMI or anything, but I do hope that he continues to speak up about issues of mental illness. Depression can be such a crippling condition because you believe that you're all alone, and seeing someone else openly talk about how they've struggled and made it through reminds you that's not true.

If you're feeling depressed and alone, and you think that it will never get better, listen to a handsome actor or a goofy blogger: you're not alone. Talk to a counselor or a doctor. There are brighter days ahead.


Jessica said...

I like listening to goofy actors and handsome bloggers. :0)

Awesome post, baby. I love you.

Brad Smith said...

Thanks Matt for posting on something that is a huge problem in the US/World, but more importantly here in the South. People, and men in particular, seem to still think that counseling is still for weak crazies who have nothing else to live for and can't handle life like the "rest of us." It's incredibly important for the population to see that any mental illness whether it be depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, OCD or Schizophrenia are nothing other than brain disorders that require counseling and medication. They are medical disorders. I still find it strange that we say things like "I'm so ADD today" or "I can be so OCD," but we never say "man i really feel cancerish today." More post like yours are needed to show that mental illness doesn't deserve its stigma and should be taken seriously. Thanks bud.