Venting on the WSJ on Depression

HERE is an article by a WSJ columnist in their Opinion Journal section about depression in America. It really ticked me off.

It ticks me off because the author says this at the end of the article:

I suspect, however, that cultural differences can account for only so much. Economics must also be at work. Consider Jean-Baptiste Say’s famous insight that supply creates its own demand. We know this to be true about, for instance, personal computers: There was never any demand for PCs until Steve Jobs put one on the market and persuaded consumers it was something they should have. Just so with depression: Is there a country on earth where Prozac is more widely prescribed, or therapy more readily available, than the U.S.? It should hardly be surprising, therefore, that Americans now find themselves so depressed.

None of this is to say that depression is not, for those who suffer acutely from it, a serious matter or that it doesn’t warrant attention and care. But it is also true that what we now call “depression” is something previous generations also knew, albeit with different names: melancholy, unhappiness, “the blues.” In song, in church, in labor, in philosophy and in the bonds of family, community and tradition they were often able to find genuine consolations.

Such consolations still exist, though we no longer think of them as cures. Given how badly our own “cures” seem to be working, perhaps it would be well if we did.

Well, here’s the problem. There is nothing magical about the word “depression”. It is used colloquially for probably a dozen different diseases, maybe more. Some of those diseases are more common in different places. But generally speaking, any kind of illness of the mind can fall under the category of depression.

Furthermore, it is not simply a matter of consolation or of being happy. What a silly thing to say. The goal of life is not to be happy at the end of the day. Our goal as Christians is to be in communion with Christ, and to find our rest in Him. Even most other religions or secularists will recognize that “happiness” is not everything. I’m all for happiness, but please. Is that a medical diagnosis?

The same may be true for the word consolation. It evokes images of patting someone on the back when they’ve had a bad day, or simply sitting down and listening to a friend. Again, I’m all in favor of consolation. Consolation may be found in many different places, some of which the author listed. Consolation (I would suggest) is a portion of the healing which must come about in order to recover from depression. But it is not the “cure”.

Mr. Stephens, your article cited a lot of statistics, and pulled the public conversation about depression backwards, not forwards. I hope that you never have to suffer as we have suffered, but if you do, you will find your own words as painful as I do.

-DMR

PS Yes, I’m in a crabby mood today.

2 thoughts on “Venting on the WSJ on Depression”

  1. When a patient/client goes on an antidepressant, often, the great risk is that they will become overwhelmingly emotional and become suicidal. This is the clearest way I know of to show that depression is not “feeling bad.” They need the antidepressant to feel bad.

    You are right. Depression is not about sadness. The “feeling” often described is that of nothingness. Not being able to move, not being able to be happy OR sad, OR angry…or anything. Not being able to endure the basic encounters of life. The role of the antidepressant is to take away the block of the emotions being neurologically processed (at least this is one view of what is happening. And not enough is made of the fact that at times, this supressing of emotions can be a healthy way of dealing with things in a gradual process, rather than all at once. It is when it goes on for too long, or inhibits functioning that it becomes a disorder). That is also why general practitioners prescribing antidepressants without also making sure counseling services are rendered can be a dangerous thing.

    Depression can happen for all sorts of reasons, many of these we don’t understand…biological imbalances, hereditary tendencies, blocking of grief, hatred of self. And the interplay between biology of environment (instead of simple cause/effect) is also a very complicated process which cannot be brought around to simply economy, etc.

    Though on the other side, there are people who are sad and dissatisfied with their lives and attribute that to depression, when really what it is going on is false expectation; lack of spiritual, moral, or emotional depth; and/or who are subject to a message from society that tells us we should be out there enjoying life..etc. And there are doctors who are willing to prescribe given these “symptoms.” I believe that this is what the writer is truly writing about, and maybe buys into that lie himself. It is clearly not what you are describing. And what you are describing is a more true definition of what depression is considered to be.

  2. When a patient/client goes on an antidepressant, often, the great risk is that they will become overwhelmingly emotional and become suicidal. This is the clearest way I know of to show that depression is not “feeling bad.” They need the antidepressant to feel bad.

    You are right. Depression is not about sadness. The “feeling” often described is that of nothingness. Not being able to move, not being able to be happy OR sad, OR angry…or anything. Not being able to endure the basic encounters of life. The role of the antidepressant is to take away the block of the emotions being neurologically processed (at least this is one view of what is happening. And not enough is made of the fact that at times, this supressing of emotions can be a healthy way of dealing with things in a gradual process, rather than all at once. It is when it goes on for too long, or inhibits functioning that it becomes a disorder). That is also why general practitioners prescribing antidepressants without also making sure counseling services are rendered can be a dangerous thing.

    Depression can happen for all sorts of reasons, many of these we don’t understand…biological imbalances, hereditary tendencies, blocking of grief, hatred of self. And the interplay between biology of environment (instead of simple cause/effect) is also a very complicated process which cannot be brought around to simply economy, etc.

    Though on the other side, there are people who are sad and dissatisfied with their lives and attribute that to depression, when really what it is going on is false expectation; lack of spiritual, moral, or emotional depth; and/or who are subject to a message from society that tells us we should be out there enjoying life..etc. And there are doctors who are willing to prescribe given these “symptoms.” I believe that this is what the writer is truly writing about, and maybe buys into that lie himself. It is clearly not what you are describing. And what you are describing is a more true definition of what depression is considered to be.

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