What are examples of depression in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak?

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In the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, the narrator, Melinda Sordino, experiences several forms of depression as well as, quite possibly, dissociation. After Melinda experiences an immensely traumatic event wherein she is raped, she begins to withdraw from her friends and loved ones, many of whom do not attempt to seek understanding from Melinda. As she becomes more depressed and withdrawn, Melinda isolates herself and becomes more and more nonverbal. When experiencing extreme depression, people can often find verbal communication and maintaining relationships to be incredibly overwhelming and, at times, impossible.

The shame and self-blame that Melinda demonstrates is often experienced by people who experience depression and many other forms of mental illnesses or crises. Rather than be able to reach out to her friends like she may have been able to for a physically-rooted illness, Melinda isolates herself from the shame she experiences and her perception of depression as weakness.

Melinda also copes with being raped by cutting herself, which is a common way of responding to an acutely and stigmatized traumatic event. However, societal responses to self-harm tend to cause further shame and guilt on the part of the person who is coping. Other physical signs of Melinda's depression include her diet change and sleep pattern change.

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The book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a coming-of-age tale that features a young girl named Melinda Sordino. Melinda is entering her freshman year of high school with a big secret, a secret that is causing her depression and anxiety. Melinda was sexually assaulted over the summer, and because she called the police, it seems everyone in her life has abandoned her. However, they don't know the whole story. This trauma and abandonment cause Melinda's depression to manifest in several ways. Here are a few from the story:

  • Selective Mutism: The book is titled Speak, yet Melinda is unable to converse with 95% of people in her life. The assault caused her to repress her feelings and made her shut down emotionally. She is unable to feel safe and share her feelings which, in turn, causes more problems throughout her freshman year.
  • The Closet: Melinda's depression makes her feel like a tiny mouse in the eyes of a ferocious cat. Melinda uses her closet to hide, but in reality, it's the only space that makes her feel safe. She physically removes herself from the world so that she does not have to face what happened to her.
  • Self-Harm: Melinda's depression causes her to harm herself in multiple ways. In one part of the story, Melinda cuts herself with a paperclip. During most of her narrative, she bites her lips so hard they bleed. She also restricts food due to her feelings about her assault and her body.
  • Withdrawal: While Melinda loses a lot of her friends due to the party, there are people in her life that are attempting to bridge the gap such as Heather, her art teacher Mr. Freeman, Ivy, and even her parents. However, Melinda's depression tells her not to trust anyone and that it's better to stay quiet and run from conflict.
  • Identity: Throughout the story, we see Melinda searching for something to make her feel safe and at home with herself. She loses her identity when her friends ditch her and everyone begins to shame her. She symbolically begins to recreate herself through her art, her closet, her bedroom, and gardening, but this fight to find herself stems from trauma and deep-seated fears.
  • Physical Symptoms: Melinda sleeps a lot, which is a clear sign of depression. She has limited energy and nothing seems to excite her in a positive way. Whether it's food, friends, school, or typical teen stuff, Melinda can't seem to find joy in anything except her art.
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Melinda's like a lot of people experiencing depression in that she unfairly blames herself for her condition, thinking that it's a sign of her own weakness rather than a genuine illness. This is directly related to her complete lack of self-esteem, which in turn has been caused by her being raped. Melinda feels trapped in that she cannot articulate the traumatic event that happened to her at the party that night. Indeed, she cannot really articulate anything; she's effectively lost the ability to express herself verbally. The act of violation has deprived her of a voice at a time in her life when she needs it more than ever.

Melinda's depression has also robbed her of any sense of self. She no longer lives in the fullest sense of the word; she only exists (barely). Her grim, colorless existence is symbolized by the condition of her bedroom, which has no personality, no individuality, no definable character. Melinda can't redecorate her room, because that would require her to express something that no longer truly exists.

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The first sign of depression in Speak is Melinda's insistence on being alone. She has lost her friends and does not try to make new ones. She will not speak to her parents or teachers unless necessary. She starts hanging out in a supply closet at school.

The second example of depression in this book is her silence. She will not tell the truth about what happened to anyone, will not speak in class, will not read her report, and only does well in art class, where she can express her feelings without talking.

The third sign is her self-harm. Melinda's compulsive lip-biting is a sign of depression as she deliberately does damage to her body and causes herself pain.

A fourth is her sleeping habits. Depression often causes people to want to sleep a lot. Melinda sleeps in the supply closet at school rather than studying, and then goes to bed early at home rather than spending time with friends.

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