Holden and Depression

Depression, one of the world’s most prevalent psychological problems, affects nearly everyone through either personal experience or through depression in a family member or friend. Each year, over 17 million Americans experience a period of clinical depression. In a teenager’s life, they must confront peer pressure problems at school, problems at home, the deaths of loved ones, alcohol abuse, etc.; another cause of depression is said to be smoking, a habit Holden is addicted to. “Teens who smoked were at an increased risk of depression at a 73% higher rate than other teens.” (Goodman and Capitman, 2005)

Depression interferes with regular functioning, and frequently causes problems with work, social, and family adjustment. It causes pain and suffering, not only to those who have the disorder, but also to those who love and care for them. Depression has the ability to destroy family life as well as the life of the depressed person.
A person suffering from depression usually exhibits a very low mood, which pervades all aspects of life, and an inability to experience pleasure in activities that formerly were enjoyed. They may ruminate over thoughts of worthlessness, guilt, regret, helplessness, and hopelessness. Symptoms of depression in teenagers do not directly correspond to those of major depression, but are extremely similar. Teenagers suffering from this condition often display frequent sadness and guilt, extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, difficulty with relationships, poor performance in school, poor concentration, efforts to run away from home, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol or drug abuse.

Holden Caulfield, a sixteen year-old New York City teenager in the 1950s, displays many of the symptoms of teen depression. Holden’s current clinical presentation appears to represent an acute exacerbation of a chronic psychotic disturbance which had its onset when his younger brother, Allie, died from leukemia. The Caulfield family has not yet openly discussed the event of Allie’s death, thus penetrating the threshold of pain that Holden can bear. Holden exposes a deep void in his soul that yearns for the return of his lost sibling. His condition was worsened when attending Elkton Hills where one of his peers, James Castle, was harassed and bullied, resulting in his suicide. Holden comments, “… there was old James Castle laying there right on the stone steps and all. He was dead, and his teeth, and blood, were all over the place, and nobody would even go near him.” (Salinger, 170) However, despite Holden’s imprudent actions and vulgar dialogue, he experiences ephemeral periods of despondency and sorrow. His personality is that of an improvident individual who seeks pleasure and contentment; however, his plans are easily altered by his ever-changing disposition, due to hovering feelings of sorrow and guilt.

Holden does not have the ability to harmonize with numerous factors in society. He is particularly critical of change in himself, his family, and his surroundings. More often than not, the changes that Holden has experienced impede his daily routine. For instance, Allie’s death injured him psychologically; the changing orientation of the streets injured him bodily. Holden combines his anti-change mindset with sensitivity to rejection, thus causing him to engage in a brutal quarrel with his roommate, Stradlater, regarding one of Holden’s former acquaintances, Jane Gallagher. He beleaguers Stradlater with questions to ask Jane; Holden wishes that Jane has not changed from what he remembers from his childhood. “All I said was, ‘Ask her if she still keeps all her kings in the back row.’” (Salinger, 35)

Throughout the plotline, Holden shows that he is in need for intimate relationships with other individuals. One of Holden’s most prominent problems is that he considers all adults as phonies; he visualizes childhood as the ideal state of being. To illustrate, throughout Holden’s childhood, it has become obvious that he has idolized his older brother, D.B.; however, now that he is a writer for Hollywood, Holden considers him a phony. “He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me.” (Salinger, 2) While residing at Pencey Prep, prior to becoming expelled, Holden remarks that he has greater respect for Robert Ackley, a teenager who has repulsive hygiene, than for his roommate, Stradlater, a sloven who hides his unsanitary ways. Holden can relate to Robert, primarily because he does not care about what others think of him; he does not want to be someone that he is pretending to be.

Although Holden possesses great aptitude, he never applies himself to his own work, thus resulting in his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a college preparatory school. Of the five subjects Holden is enrolled, he admits to earn failing marks in four. From a conversation with Mr. Antolini, the reader learns that Holden acts in a quixotic manner; he cannot focus on a topic for an extended period of time. “‘That digression business got on my nerves. I don’t know. The trouble with me is, I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.’”

The concept of Holden’s desire to flee from his home is eminent when he introduces his plan to his companion, Sally Hayes. “‘Here’s my idea. How would you like to get the hell out of here? Here’s my idea. I know this guy down in Greenwich Village that we can borrow his car for a couple of weeks. What we could do is, tomorrow morning we could drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont, and all around there, see.’” (Salinger, 132) Holden fantasizes a world where he can easily leave all his troubles behind in New York, and begin another life in Massachusetts, without encountering any additional struggles. After having his idea repudiated by Sally, he seeks his utopia on his own. “I decided I’d never go home again … I’d start hitchhiking my way West. What I’d do, I figured, I’d go down to Holland Tunnel and burn a ride, and then I’d burn another one, and another one, and in a few days I’d be somewhere out west where it was very pretty and sunny and how I’d get a job.” (Salinger, 198)

Throughout Holden’s forty-eight hour journey, he abuses his freedom and accumulated wealth by going to the numerous bars found in New York. On several occasions, Holden becomes inebriated from the consumption of alcoholic beverages. “‘Where are you? Who’s with you?’ ‘Nobody. Me, myself, and I.’ Boy was I drunk! I was even still holding onto my guts.” (Salinger, 151)

Treatment options for adolescents with clinical depression include supportive care from a medical provider, psychotherapy, and antidepressant medications. Family members also often participate in the treatment of depression. Family therapy may be helpful if family conflict is contributing to the depression. However, many parents, like Holden’s, are tempted to send their child to a “boot camp,” “wilderness program,” or “emotional growth school.” These programs often use non-medical staff, confrontational therapies, and harsh punishments. There is no scientific evidence to support such programs; in fact, there is a growing body of research suggesting they can harm sensitive teenagers with depression.

In addition to family care and nourishment, medications may be considered in the treatment of depression. For instance, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), an antidepressant, may be used to treat depression; however, some medications carry warnings that note that it may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions. In Holden’s case, medication is not needed. He simply needs loving, caring, family and friends.

Of the diverse people in Holden’s life, there are only a few who comprehend his true inner being. Holden’s younger sister, Phoebe, aided him through his period of clinical depression. She is one who understands Holden’s problem and tries to support him through his times of need; she acts as Holden’s true confidant. When Holden is in the company of Phoebe, he experiences feelings of joy, warmth, and rebirth. “I just felt good, for a change.” (Salinger, 165) Phoebe insists on following Holden, when he considers making his hegira in order to flee his troubles; Holden rejects her offer. Phoebe responds by crying, which assists Holden to face his problems. It allowed him to realize that if he left home, he would not be the only depressed and lonesome person in the world. As a result, he stays at home. “I’m not going anywhere. I changed my mind.” (Salinger, 207)

Another sympathizer is Mr. Antolini, Holden’s favorite teacher at Elkton Hills. Holden respects Mr. Antolini for picking up the body of James Castle after he had jumped out of the window. However, when Holden is staying at Mr. Antolini’s house, he awakens to find Mr. Antolini’s hand stroking his head. Holden immediately begins to dress and leave the Antolini residence, assuming that Mr. Antolini was making a sexual approach. Afterwards, Holden is overcome by feelings of guilt regarding his abrupt behavior. “I thought how he hadn’t minded it when I’d called him up so late, and how he’d told me to come right over if I felt like it. And how he went to all that trouble giving me that advice about finding out the size of your mind and all, and how he was the only guy that’d even gone near that boy James Castle I told you about when he was dead.” (Salinger, 195)

Overall, Holden Caulfield is an agreeable and reputable child, with an unprincipled beginning in life. His parents should learn to be comforting and caring towards Holden. Holden is lacking a major portion of infatuation, affection, tenderness, etc. that most children receive. Holden made the correct decision to hinder his decisions to leave his home. If he continues to make intelligent decisions that will benefit his future, he will be on the road to recovery.