The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Depression

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Synopsis and Introduction to Charlie

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age epistolary novel written by American novelist Stephen Chbosky set in the suburbs of Pittsburgh in the 1990's (Wikipedia, 2012). It follows the life of a teenage boy named Charlie.

Charlie is a 15 year old boy who is on the verge of beginning his freshman year in high school. He lives with both his parents and his sister in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One look at Charlie may render him a normal, introverted, and shy boy, but his mind is dancing with intelligence beyond his years and overflowing with creativity in the form of his own unique writing. Contrastingly, mental illness does not discriminate. Although a normal boy on the surface, his brilliance is often met with despair, regression, and pervasive thoughts of hopelessness.

Charlie's past struggles most likely made him more susceptible and prone to developing a mental illness. Since he was a child, Charlie's “favourite person in the world” would be his aunt. She was killed in a car accident on his 7th birthday. Charlie witnesses his sister being physically and emotionally abused by her boyfriend, and although he wants to do something about it, she says that she still loves her boyfriend and that it is okay. His best friend committed suicide several months before they were supposed to start high school together, which caused his emotional and physical deterioration. When he begins high school, he becomes friends with Patrick. Patrick was in a secret relationship with a closeted gay student, Brad. Brad was beaten by his father when he found out. To try to overcompensate, Brad begins tormenting Patrick at school, and that is when Charlie snaps. He fights with Brad and threatens to “blind” him if he hurts Patrick again. Feeling accepted by his new group, he develops feelings for Sam, Patrick's sister. When the two start to become sexually active, Charlie feels uneasy and has to stop. Repressed memories of his late aunt were beginning to surface in his consciousness. He then remembers that he was molested and sexually abused by his aunt since he was a small child. After his memories came back to him and “visions” were reported, he was hospitalized.

Illustrated Disorder

Although the book and film did not directly say what Charlie was diagnosed with, he seems to fit the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. He experiences being in a depressive mood most of the time, feeling fatigue, feels worthlessness and harbours inappropriate guilt, diminished general interest, seclusion, insomnia, and social anxiety. These feelings have persisted for more than two weeks and impairs his everyday life functions. His posture and movements are usually slow and slumped, and he has experienced traumatic life events that may trigger the onset factors of depression.

Referring to the DSM Multiaxial system for assessment, Major Depressive Disorder falls under Axis I. M.D.D. falls under episodic mental disorders. It represents acute symptoms that need treatment. Axis IV describes relevant life events like stress situations, current/recent/past trauma, death/ loss of a significant other etc. For this particular axis, Charlie has a plethora of past and recent events that may have caused severe stress and trauma in his life. For example, his sexual abuse by his aunt since he was a child, his aunt's death when he turned 7 years old, the witnessing of his sister's abusive relationship, the suicide of his best friend right before high school, and the overall pressure that he is under to act “normal” on an everyday basis.

Current Research on Major Depressive Disorder

A recent study explored the predictors of first lifetime onset of M.D.D. in young adulthood. Daniel N. Klein and Catherine R. Glenn worked with the participants of the Oregon Adolescent Depression Project, who were between the ages of 17-31. In a self- report, eight distinct factors were measured in...
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