Monday, 6 May 2013

“I suffer from depression”

We’ve all heard folk declaring they “suffer from depression” in the same way we might say “ I suffer from asthma/allergies/the flu—in other words, as if it’s a sickness they’re unlucky enough to have caught, about which there’s nothing they can do but ride it out.

Psychologist Dr Michael Hurd questions this approach, arguing that the way to begin dealing properly with  the affliction is not to abdicate  responsibility for our emotions, but instead to take responsibility for them. Naturally, this view doesn’t receive much support from many “professionals”:

The world is full of people, particularly educated or sophisticated types, who like to feel more viable or important by encouraging passivity in you. The therapy field is full of this type, as are most of the educated, influential, powerful and "chattering" classes. Their membership in this elite does not automatically make them right. And their seeming concern -- if not fawning desire -- to ensure your best interests does not automatically mean that your interests will be met by listening to them.
    To me, it makes infinitely more sense to look at your habits of thinking as the causes of your problems, not only because it's true -- but it also implies the solution is in your hands.

The solution is in your hands once your realise that emotions are not causeless. Emotions in fact are the result of prior thinking, or refusal to think—“a reflection or extension of the way that we think. In other words, we are what we think. And what we think "prints out" in the form of emotions. This is not unfair or unkind blaming. It's simply a recognition of fact. It's also more hopeful than the passive approach.”

Depression, properly defined, is a state of "learned helplessness." This term arose out of the research of Martin Seligman and others. Ironically, the medicalization of emotions reinforces the very state of depression it's supposed to "treat." It tells you, "You're not responsible for your emotional state. Something else is. And once treated, while you sit and wait, you will be fine." To me, this seems like a cruel and twisted joke. You tell the person whose emotional state is dominated by "I can't do anything to change myself" by claiming, in effect, "You can't do anything to change yourself."

But you can. Don’t medicalise your emotions, as too many “professionals” encourage (and certainly don’t turn to bad religion as a solace), instead

try to fight what the established world -- even the established world of mental health and self-help, unfortunately -- tries to tell you. Get past these notions of "I suffer from" this or that "mental disorder." Instead, look objectively at what your mind is actually saying and doing. Look at what your attitude is, and whether your attitudes or beliefs are fact-based or not, or require changing. Find someone to help you? Surely, if it's needed. But find someone to help you at this task. Don't find someone to "help" you merely look at yourself as a weak, helpless creature subject to whatever disease of emotions you happened to inherit. That's not really the way it is.

Read "The Medicalization of Emotions Has a Price" at Dr Hurd’s Daily Dose of Reason.


  1. “There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so". Shakespeare.

    With a health service devoid of meaningful goals, what incentive is there to heal other than the management of risk?

    With philosophical underpinnings in stoicism, Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy DOES offer a process by which a therapist might approach an examination (and modification) of a clients beliefs and emotions.

    This from a local REBT organisation:

    Or just read Hamlet?

  2. Like almost everyone who has "suffered from depression" - and yes, it is suffering, terrible suffering, just as horrible as any kidney stone or slipped vertebrae - I think that "depression" is a lousy name for the illness.

    It implies that you're a bit sad, a bit down. In Darkness Visible William Styron proposed the term "brainstorm" as an alternative, and that's what it feels like. The neurotransmitters that control your moods are malfunctioning, and it means your brain is constantly flooded with powerful negative emotions. Sadness, sure. But also fear and anger and loathing and guilt.

    Try thinking about the last time you were truly terrified for your life, or the last time you were so furious you wanted to kill someone. Now imagine that you walk about feeling like that for days and days and days, for no reason. That's depression.

    Your brain is a complex physical organ. It's subject to disease. If a critical organ like your brain stops working because of a major illness you don't try to fix it with psychological babble about "taking responsibility for your emotions", you go to the damn doctor before the disease kills you.

  3. Anonymous: It's not lack of sympathy for the condition to suggest "taking responsibility for your emotions" is the way to get out from under it--nor is it psychobabble.

    Quite the opposite.

    The underlying premise here is that organic brain conditions reflect something amenable to an organic, i.e., medical cure. Whereas non-organic psychological conditions should not be medicalised--whioch is what does lead to all the psychobabble.

    Emotions, in particular, should not be medicalised. Emotions are not a product of our genes, or of an organic brain condition. They are the product of previous thinking.

    Nowhere does the author suggest that devalues the reality of the condition; what he suggests is that a cure begins with the recognition that one is able to change one's thinking, whereby "re-programming" one's emotions.

    This is not to stoically deny or repress emotions, but to realign one's emotions to be more in line with reality.

  4. By "more in line with reality" I mean (to quote Dr Hurd again>), "be both self-interested and rational in one's perspective about facts of life, others and existence. I recognize that for a person who's truly in a state of low motivation or depressed mood, this is not an easy task. But it helps to at least have the right goal in mind."

    As I said above, this is the OPPOSITE of trying to stoically repress your emotions, which is enormously self-destructive.

    "If you're depressed, and if in that state of mind you tell yourself (or another tells you), "Stop feeling sorry for yourself!" it sounds like you're condemning the person simply for feeling sad about himself or his life. This removes from discussion any possibility of discovering what the causes of the mood are; what thoughts and ideas are giving rise to the mood; and whether those thoughts and ideas are really tenable and factually valid, or not."

  5. The literature linking gene activity with depression is overwhelming.

    If you're making the claim that mood and emotions aren't organic, determined by genes and other cell functions then you're throwing out almost all scientific knowledge about mood disorders and replacing it with what sounds like religious dualism. How is thought or emotion non-organic? Why do drugs affect our moods and thoughts if that's the case? Why do anti-depressants work?

    A lot of people die of this disease. They commit suicide instead of seeking medical treatment. It's irresponsible of you to post material telling people to avoid treatment because they can fix themselves.

  6. God knows how a moron like 'Dr' Hurd got a medical qualification if he can't grasp the difference between a pessimistic mindset and clinical depression.

    "Emotions are not the product of genes, or of an organic brain condition"

    I can't believe somebody with access to the internet could be this ignorant. It is a well established fact that people with clinical depression are lacking in neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

    Likewise there is a clear difference between a normal brain and the brain of a person suffering from schizophrenia. I suppose you would also tell a schizophrenic to harden up and think normally.

  7. Anonymous: Emotions are not "mood disorders."

    Ben H.: God knows how you're able to respond without even reading what's been written above, and at the two linked articles. Maybe start there, huh?


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