Depression is the Walmart of mental illness. It is buying up more property and setting up new stores everywhere. There seems to be no end to its expansion. But is what we are seeing the discovery of a biological reality or the expansion of a new way of looking at suffering that really redefines what it means to be a suffering human being?
I know a young man in West Africa who fights everyday to stay alive one more day. His parents have died. Most of his family has died. He knows starvation in a way I cant even imagine. He starts of many of his letters with “I think I am dying….” He sounds very depressed, but is he?
It depends on where you see the truth. Is the truth in the way you see or is it in what you see? Depression, if it is different from sadness, is not caused by our experiences but is rather more the cause of the way we experience. There are without doubt I believe people who are depressed. Their mood is not simply a result of their experience of life, but in some sense the author of that experience But depression has become used in a much broader sense In explaining everything it has come to explain less and less things.
The medical model sees most of our suffering as a biochemical insufficiency. Trauma informed care sees suffering, not as a malfunction of the brain, but as a result of the woundedness that so many people experience as a normal part of living. It says the idea of suffering is nonsense if you remove it from the context in which a person lives. We are defined as much by the fabric of our experiences as we are by the neurochemical status of our brains.
My friend from Africa doesnt have depression. He has horror. He does not struggle with insanity as much as he does with remaining sane in insane circumstances.
Many people do.
When we talk about depression as the “common cold of mental health” as some people do I wonder if we are not trivializing the very real hurt and suffering of so many people. If depression is large enough to cover everything does it cover anything? Is it a disease or a title to describe a set of problems?