March 21, 2012 Jeanne Rust

Is Our Society Manufacturing More Depressed People?

A dominant theme in our society is that you should be happy, and if you're not, there's something wrong with you. Life can be difficult at times. It is in the labeling of people as depressed that the greatest injustice is done. I'm not suggesting that there aren't people who are indeed clinically depressed, but simply that the indiscriminate manner in which diagnoses are meted out to people without proper discrimination is grossly absurd. When clinical diagnosis of depression is made in the astronomical numbers we witness in American culture, it speaks to something much larger: A society that has lost its way.

If we see depression as a signal that something is off, we might use the depression to catalyze positive change. Very often depression makes perfect sense. In my practice, I often treat individuals who are being abused, living in loveless relationships or suffering from loss. Depression in such instances seems quite appropriate. Rather than treat the depression, I prefer to assist these people in coming to terms with their life challenges. It is essential to treat the person, not the depression. We must come to understand how the depressed person struggles contextually in their lives and to appreciate their particular struggles and challenges. We must, at all costs, refrain from reducing them to a clinical compilation of symptoms.

Situational Depression

In some instances, depression is situational. Loss of a loved one, illness or job loss creates circumstances that are painful. Working through the loss is more healing than medicating the pain. It is essential to address the underlying causes and not simply suppress the symptoms. The difficulty is that in our quick fix mentality, we believe that if we can suppress the symptoms then all is well. When we come to see depression not as the enemy but as an expression of struggle, the epidemic will likely subside as we come to honor the integrity of our human spirit. We do not ordinarily grow without engaging struggle. So the irony is that by medicating our symptoms with psychotropic medication, we ensure continued stagnation, for the struggle is never resolved toward a breakthrough; it is merely placated.

Gary Greenberg, in "Manufacturing Depression", suggests that depression as a clinical disease may indeed be manufactured. He references best selling psychiatrist Peter Kramer's assertion in Against Depression that "depression magically skyrocketed after the drug industry introduced SSRIs and that diagnostic criteria can't distinguish between depression and grief."

My thesis is, therefore, twofold: Much of what we call depression is a typical life struggle around loss, fear and grave situational issues that have become clinicalized for profit. Yet, there also lies a deeper despair that accompanies living an incoherent life, as a stranger in a strange land. What I am strongly asserting is that depression, and anxiety for that matter, are the most likely outcomes of living in and with the unmerciful and misguided constraints of a tired and destructive worldview. Our constructed reality is for many people depressive and anxiety inducing. Feeling as such ironically suggests that many depressed people are merely mirroring the affects of a somewhat incongruous, if not insane way of living, fostered by the society itself. In effect, the way that we are living is producing tragic results.