Cognition & Reality

Thursday, 21 October 2010

“Depression” Makes Me Sad

I’ve discussed my problems with the term “depression” in  a post from a couple of months ago. I’m returning to this topic because the term “depression” encapsulates so many of the misconceptions that plague the current public discussion of emotional and psychological problems. I want to emphasize that the term “depression” itself exemplifies the dangerous imperialism of medical “science.”

A woman whose husband beats her, for example, might very well meet the DSM criteria for depression. If medical doctors knew what to look for, which they do not, her brain might even manifest biochemical signs of depression, the famous “chemical imbalances.” What she really suffers from, however, is an imbalance of strength with her spouse,  a lifetime of  social conditioning that keeps her in her marriage, and  the lack  of resources that would permit her to leave.

The current propaganda about depression, because there is no actual evidence for the “chemical imbalances” that supposedly underlie it, invariably describe depression as “associated” with changes in neurotransmitters. As I’ve said before, that skates past the problem of determining the relationship between supposed brain states, which can be seen only through a glass darkly, and emotional states that are all too obvious. In the absence of actual biochemical evidence, the argument invariably put forth to defend the “chemical imbalances” claim is that some drugs affect mood in some people. As is true of so much of the “logic” put forth by believers, this argument confuses causes with cures. Aspirin ameliorates headaches. Does that mean that it addresses an acetylsalicylic acid imbalance in the brain or body? I suppose that you could say that if  I received morphine for pain, the medication has addressed an “endorphin imbalance” in my body, although the real physical insult that caused the pain has nothing to do with the biochemistry of pain transmission.

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