Alexa Ray Joel, Evangelist For “Heartbreak-Related Depression”

When songstress Alexa Ray Joel landed in the hospital after trying to OD on a handful of homeopathic pain pills in her NYC apartment, our hearts went out to her. Joel, 24, was apparently distraught over her breakup with band mate Jimmy Riot, 38, and swallowed the pills in a “cry for attention.” And no matter how famous your parents are—in Alexa’s case, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley—breakups always make you feel like s**t. The good news is Joel is finding positive ways to work through her issues: She’s writing songs and she told New York Daily News she is at work on a project to teach “young girls with something I feel I know a great deal about: heartbreak-related depression.” Wait—what? Don’t nearly all breakups cause “heartbreak-related depression,” especially if you’re on the being-dumped side of things?I don’t mean to be so arrogant as to suggest Joel wasn’t depressed—it sounds like the pain she felt was truly unbearable for her. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to experience a breakup and of course she should treat that pain.

I’m simply wondering what, exactly, “heartbreak-related depression” is, because I’ve never heard of it. In my experience, feeling temporarily depressed after a breakup and suffering a long, difficult bout of depression following a breakup certainly both exist. But they’re not the same thing and don’t necessarily need to be treated the same way: medications, doctors, light therapy, etc.

I’ve struggled with bouts of general anxiety and depression since my late teens, but I also have loved ones who suffer from bipolar disorder, a far more serious condition. I take daily antidepressants and have seen a cognitive behavioral therapist to manage my depression, but how I deal with it might not be right for everyone else who has depressed feelings. Depression is really just an umbrella term with a lot of stuff under it.

Personally, it took me time and experience to see the finer points: “Oh, this sadness is a temporary feeling; I’m not happy because I didn’t get hired for that great job,” and “I’ve been unable to feel joy or enthusiasm for months. Nothing seems to change how I feel; I must be feeling depressed again.” As well as: “I feel extreme lows, but no extreme highs, so I must not be bipolar like so-and-so.” Figuring the finer points out is uncomfortable work, but it has to be done. There’s a difference between temporary bad feelings that go away and being unable to manage your life in the long term. Where does “heartbreak-related depression” fall on that spectrum?

I don’t know—or presume to know—what Joel is going through. I’m just happy she wasn’t successful in taking her own life and I hope that if she’s the celebrity poster child for depression, she’ll help, instead of confuse.