Dispelling 7 myths about depression
Where have all the happy people gone? Well, we’re still here, but this thing we call happiness, and our inherent sense of OK-ness, is continuously battered and eroded by the sad-talk that abounds in our modern culture. Today, there is more focus on depression and its companion “mental diseases” — stress and anxiety — than ever before.
Of course, some would think this a good and positive thing, and various sections of the community continually strive to bring to our attention “the scourge of depression”. Yet, these well-meaning attempts to raise public awareness and understanding may often be the very thing that’s making matters worse.
Let’s examine what goes on in the subconscious mind when we are given certain information about our emotional and mental makeup and we accept that information without question…
A prominent politician resigns. His statement says he must remove himself from office so he can deal with his depression. A media frenzy ensues, feeding off a cascade of comments from athletes, politicians, TV personalities, the big guns of the depression industry and support groups, all praising the courage of the man. And so begins another round of assertions about the dangers of depression or, more precisely, the danger of not understanding the disease called depression.
Whenever societal beliefs — what we call the collective cognitive imperative — are challenged, on the other hand, or any attempt is made to deconstruct those beliefs and add new data and understanding, we often individually and collectively leap to the defence of the information that has been given us, without really making up our own minds whether that data is true, able to be qualified, sustainable and, more to the point, in our best interests.
Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and adopt a wider view of what’s happening in our society to promote this insidious slide towards becoming one of the saddest and most introspectively humourless cultures of all time. In fact, the World Health Organization predicts that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, and its researchers estimate that 121 million people currently suffer from it. So if humour and a sense of fun are indicative of a society’s good mental and emotional health, clearly ours is in trouble.
Depression as a part of life
Forests of books have been written about how depression is a psychological state — an emotional response to life. Almost everyone experiences depressed feelings as a part of routine living. It’s universally recognised that these (depressed) feelings are part of the usual ebb and flow of every person’s emotional experience. In other words, temporary depression is a normal aspect of our range of feelings.
It’s not my intention here to fully investigate the meaning and incidence of depression — clinical, normal or otherwise — but rather to look at how medical information subconsciously affects the way we view our essential selves. From the perspective of practitioners who are trained in considering the subconscious landscape, as I am, there is a concern with the why and how of our tendency to get stuck in depressed feelings — to see them as immovable rather than accept their mutability and their place in our range of emotional states. Emotional contagion is a further concern: “idea mimicry” can creep up on us and usurp our natural ability to regulate and balance our mood states.
It may be useful, then, to open up awareness of the information circulated by Western medicine (often generated by drug companies), how it might not be correct, and how the myths created by that information might affect our everyday experience and make us slaves to the depression mythology.
Why it’s important to question
I recommend the works of psychiatrists Peter Breggin, Grace E. Jackson and Marcia Angell (see References on page 61) to help you make up your own mind about the veracity of the common beliefs about depression. While these writings (and mine) may seem antagonistic to the information generated by drug companies and Western medicine in general, my focus here is more on how we want to believe the science-driven mythology rather than question it.
Human nature is such that we look for reasons and excuses outside of personal choices; ie we would rather find a “disease” or biological imbalance to blame for our melancholy than take responsibility for it as our own doing and within our capacity to correct.
Of course, drug companies are aware of this aspect of our psychological makeup and are all too willing to capitalise on our natural impulse to blame something or someone else for what ails us and look for the cure outside ourselves. The myths created by drug companies are designed to allow us to feel OK that “my depression is not my fault: I’m not creating it; something else is” and, as a result, become victims, unprepared to accept our own responsibility to balance our emotional lives.
And it’s our belief in the myths that is making us slide relentlessly into a culture of sad and continuously medicated people. We can’t hope to fight this without a greater understanding of what makes up the belief systems that run us, mind and body.
Freedom through self responsibility
Self responsibility is the key to making ourselves well. To embrace it, we need to first discover the truth about what keeps us in a stable attributional style (ie, perennial depression) and find the means by which the deep subconscious desire to abnegate responsibility can be addressed. For such self-responsible change to occur, it can be useful to enlist the help of programs with an emphasis on disassembling and diffusing our underlying desire to go with what the myths offer and lay the blame outside our control.
As a practitioner, I believe change is inevitable when given new information and realisation. To understand the power the depression myths have over us is the first and most powerful step toward relief of debilitating depression. Understanding the pliable nature of depressed feelings can help us break free of the mire of “depression stuckness”.
Let’s look at what I call the seven deadly myths about depression prevalent in our culture, along with some countering viewpoints. While some of this information will challenge the belief systems crucial to holding on to a depressed state, it’s a very useful exercise to assess the difference that comparing the myths with their opposite ideas can make.
Myth No 1: Depression is a disease
Outcome of accepting the myth: We become resigned to our powerlessness and, more significantly, reject our own responsibility for our psychological state.
Opposing view: Depression is a flexible psychological response to life.
Outcome of questioning the myth: We realise that depression is pliable and we can take control of its effects.
Myth No 2: Depression is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain
Outcome of accepting the myth: As with Myth 1, we tend to “blame” that which we believe we can’t control.
Opposing view: There is no scientific proof of this myth. Its creation has a lot to do with drug company marketing. Moreover, no long-term studies have been conducted on whether SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants do damage to the brain. In neurobiological terms, a depressed style of being causes a depletion of serotonin in the brain, not the reverse.
Outcome of questioning the myth: We acknowledge that psychotropic substances such as antidepressants may not be good for us. Depression is pliable and we can take control of its effects and break its habitual pattern by natural means.
Myth No 3: It’s all in my head
Outcome of accepting the myth: The territory of the depression experience is wholly in the brain/mind.
Opposing view: There’s no such thing as a mental/emotional condition being experienced wholly by or wholly in the brain. The brain is incapable of sensory experience. (For further information, refer to my article “Rethinking Psychosomatics” in WellBeing issue 102.)
Outcome of questioning the myth: When we understand depression as a whole-body experience, we may be able to alleviate its effects with physical activity such as exercise rather than with medication.
Myth No 4: Depression is a permanent condition you can only hope to “manage” rather than cure
Outcome of accepting the myth: We will always be subjugated by depression, in need of constant chemical management.
Opposing view: In natural experience, depressed feelings are changeable. The “permanent condition” this myth refers to is the habituation to a depressed style — being stuck in the blues.
Outcome of questioning the myth: We discover that depression, with help and information, is only as permanent or as temporary as we wish it to be.
Myth No 5: Depression is a condition that requires an external expert to treat
Outcome of accepting the myth: We give up not only our power to outside practitioners but also our belief in our own resources and ability to bring about positive change.
Opposing view: All healing is self-healing. The means lie within.
Outcome of questioning the myth: We may develop an increased capacity to search within for liberation.
Myth No 6: Becoming the label, “clinical depression”
Outcome of accepting the myth: We eagerly blame the label and accept defeat based on a belief in the superiority of “clinical” diagnosis.
Opposing view: Perennial depression is a result of a stable attributional style, a habit of feeling a particular way. In truth, that style is malleable.
Outcome of questioning the myth: We realise that “depression is not doing me — I am doing depression”.
Myth No 7: Any effective non-drug treatment for depression must be the result of conscious and rational counselling methods; ie we must “discover” or “uncover” the cause
Outcome of accepting the myth: We must uncover or discover past causes or trauma in order to understand and change.
Opposing view: Depression is an in-the-present phenomenon. While past events may have exacerbated a tendency to depression, good and effective treatment needs to be about the present and future.
Outcome of questioning the myth: We build a sound grounding in the present and the power of correcting now.
As the smoke clears
I want to emphasise that I don’t ask you to necessarily believe the opposing views — or disbelieve what I call myths, for that matter. I’m simply arguing that an unquestioning belief in the myths is what the “depression industry” in its many forms is built on, and it effectively takes away our self-power and inherent capacity for change, putting us firmly in the hands of the industry.
Carl Jung (1875-1961) said: “Society is organized, indeed, less by law than by the propensity to imitation, implying equal suggestibility, suggestion and mental contagion.” I suggest this is a very apt description of the contagious nature of the myths of the modern depression industry.
We go through daily life largely unaware of the mechanisms of our unconscious tendency to avoid change — even positive change. We may not realise that we often subconsciously block the paths to emotional wellness and balance. Perhaps we will never fully understand those unconscious aspects of human complexity. But what we can understand — and what the Af-x program of emotion coaching I’ve developed addresses — is that many of the accepted myths about depression leave huge holes in our subconscious landscape, into which we can too easily fall and disappear.
The truth is, we all have much more power over our experience than we think.
Angell, Marcia, MD, The Truth About the Drug Companies: How they deceive us and what to do about it (Random House, 2004).
Breggin, Peter, MD, The Anti-depressant Fact Book (Perseus, 2001).
Breggin, Peter, MD, “Psychiatric Drug Facts”, www.breggin.com.
Hatfield, Elaine, et al, Emotional Contagion: Studies in emotion & social interaction (Cambridge University Press, 1994).
Jackson, Grace E., MD, Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs: A guide for informed consent (AuthorHouse, 2005).
Ian White has spent 20 years researching and developing the Af-x Emotion Coaching programs which focus on the silent and subtle subconscious causes of depression and emotional problems. He practises Af-x and trains practitioners in Europe, the US and Australia. W: www.EmotionsInBalance.com, E: firstname.lastname@example.org, T: (02) 4571 3902.