“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Do Prescription Drugs Cause Depression?
Scientists have discovered an interesting link between prescription medication and depression.
Since 2013, the diagnosis of major depression in the United States has risen by a staggering 33% and people have noticed. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions on advertising trying to convince the general public that Prozac and Zoloft are the answer. Others blame social media addiction or the fact that Millennials, the group most acutely affected by this issue, are dealing with nearly insurmountable student loan debt. There are hundreds of theories bouncing around between psychology departments and media talking heads, but in reality there's probably no one root cause. That said, a new study in the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA) by Dima Mazan Qato may have just uncovered a new log to toss onto the already raging fire. According to the report, common prescription medicines–so common they're in an estimated one third of American households–may be contributing to the rising rate of depression in the United States.
The study includes drugs like beta-blockers, prescription strength ibuprofen, and birth control pills, but stops short of saying that these definitely cause symptoms of depression in otherwise healthy individuals on their own. The real danger occurs when prescriptions are mixed. It's perfectly normal for people to need more than one medication to help them with their health issues but Qato's finding suggest that when drugs are mixed, their side effects can be compounded.
Interestingly, the percentage of drugs which list depression or suicidal thoughts as symptoms–here's a list of over 200 from the New York Times– has been steadily creeping up over the past decade, from 35% in 2005 to 38.4% in 2014. In the same period, the percentage of adults concurrently taking three or more drugs rose from 6.9% to 9.5% and the usage of medications that list suicidal thoughts and depression as side effects has increased from 17.3% to 23.5%. To a layman or (very) ametuer logician, it's easy to extrapolate a cause and effect relationship from this data, but Qato advises against this, as the data's meaning isn't completely clear. What is clear, however, is that suicide rates have been steadily increasing since the beginning of the 21st century.
Dr. Philip Muskin, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia and secretary of the American Psychiatric Association suggests that the information in Qato's study, while not definitive, should be enough to warn doctors that their prescription pad can be a dangerous and unwieldy tool. The hope is that medical professionals will not hand out drugs like ibuprofen willy-nilly but rather take their side effects into account and discuss these side effects with their patients before prescribing.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff
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