In rebuttal to Giles Fraser’s poorly argued piece on anti depressants and ADHD medication, which may have hit ‘common misconceptions about depression BINGO!” I am inspired to reply in a somewhat tired and mixed up manner.
Firstly he seems to be confusing Depression with ‘feeling a bit sad’ and ADHD with ‘being an arsey teenager’ (which is pretty much BINGO! on its own). Everyone gets sad and I do genuinely feel our society is terrible with dealing with negative emotions and we are encouraged far too much to not explore these, however, and this is the really important bit, Depression is not being sad. Depression is when your sadness and depressive feelings (Ironically I don’t tend to feel especially sad when I’m depressed ) become so problematic and overwhelming you cannot function. It is a extreme, I’d venture unimaginably extreme if you have not experienced it, version of what ‘sadness’ and ‘feeling down’ is. It is an illness. Anti depressants are not ‘happy pills’, they do not make anyone happy, the best most of us can hope for is ‘making you function as a vague approximation of a human being’. I know I moan about my medication a lot on here, they can have terrible side effects and finding the right medication at the right dosage takes time, and sometimes they just ‘poop out’ and stop. They are not a cure, I am still depressed after years of being on anti depressants, however I am alive and I achieve more stability than I do off medication. Ideally I would love to be able to manage without, but at the moment that is unrealistic. Some people find the improvement dramatic.
Depression is not just ‘feeling sad’
Fraser’s article suggests depression is a reaction to a shitty job or home life, as it can be, however as much as Depression can be triggered by life circumstances and it can also come out of the blue and there is strong evidence for a genetic link. If anti depressants help you gain just a tiny bit more liveability out of your life surely they are worth it? Especially when access to talking therapies is limited if not impossible on the NHS. To categorise medication which has helped millions as snake oil designed to subdue the masses into a pliant, profit making serenity, is quite frankly bullshit. I agree that Big Pharma does seem keen to pathologise us and have us drugged up, but I also know that equating a genuine illness with ‘being a bit down about having a shit job’ or ‘being a naughty kid’ is dangerous, not to mention the cause of much stigma that makes life for those with conditions such as depression and ADHD worse.
There is a need to debate the underbelly of psychiatry and its failings, I remain cynical myself, but an article like this smacks of ‘pull yourself together in my day we just got on with it ‘ crossed with ‘embrace your sadness! it’s beautiful!’ hippy nonsense. Plus if anyone is going to debate psychiatry it should be someone who actually know what they are talking about.
I’m getting a bit Emotional
I do embrace my emotions , I probably explore them in more depth because of my depression, because I know not exploring them can sometimes trigger a depressive episode (though just as frequently my depressive episodes come out of nowhere); but my depression ISN’T an emotion. It’s not a feeling, it’s a whole cluster of shit with mental and physical symptoms. I have been depressed long enough to know that sadness, anger, frustration, misery; all those emotions I have as a result of living life and encountering shit therein are a different beast entirely.
Depression is not sadness, or misery or any other reasonable emotional response to anything; which is where the main problem with his article lies, he confuses clinical depression with sadness, misery or other emotions that may be unpleasant but are not to all intents and purposes severly life limiting and disabling in the way depression is. And then claims we do a disservice by pathologising these things. To equate medication which helps so many people manage conditions with ‘shutting people up’ is offensive. He may have a point about very mild depression, or unhappiness, as the result of life circumstances, being treated too readily with anti depressants with little attention paid to WHY someone feels this way, but this article does not argue that, or it argues it very badly. I agree we should not pathologise and seek to eradicate negative emotions; I have a burning hatred for the ‘positive thinking’ guru type bullshit that tells us to bury our sadness and smile regardless, but depression is to negative emotions as a hurricane is to a gentle breeze.
Yet again it is someone showing a complete lack of understanding about what depression is, using the term ‘depression’ when they don’t appear to be talking about the illness depression (but by using the term ‘depression’ they give the impression that that is indeed what they are referring too) but a vague sense of ‘meh’ as well as using anti depressants as an example to illustrate a point that has nothing to do with depression or indeed what anti depressants are used to treat. All of which is terribly confusing and unhelpful to say the very least, yet another regurgitation of common misconceptions around depression that do nothing but hinder understanding.
For a more in-depth and nuanced take on the matter of sadness in western society I suggest reading ‘Against Happiness’ by Eric G. Wilson , which explores the benefits of embrace negative emotions yet is at pains to point out this is not the same as clinical depression, which he asserts should be treated as the illness it is.
Plus it’s not as if high doses of anti depressants for years has shut me up is it?
Don’t talk shit about stuff you don’t know about from under a guise of authority.