Anthony Gormley's 'Iron Men'; photo by Ian Bramham
In the second in our series on depression, pyschotherapist, Lindie White, writes about the causes of depression:
Proverbs carry much folk wisdom and the common sense we all share by virtue of being human. As humans we are hard wired for pleasure and pain and the whole gamut of emotions. We arrive in this world programmed to seek life, food, warmth, comfort and with the predisposition to attach and relate. How does the experience of depression sit with these facts? I wrote in last month’s blog about the experience of depression. This month I’m writing about the causes of what we call depression.
Depression is generally labelled a mental health problem and still carries a stigma although many well known people have spoken out about their own experiences: Stephen Fry, Richard Mabey, Monty Don and Will Young’s brother, who lives in the Newbury area.
The causes of depression are variously attributed according to how it is viewed. At one extreme, many psychiatrists name it as a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is seen as a physical illness and therefore comparable with other physical illnesses. From this angle depression is seen as bad, wrong and therefore something to be got rid of, treated and controlled. It is seen as a deviation from ‘the norm’. This begs the question, ‘What is the norm?’ We all know that ‘it takes all sorts to make a world’. Depression is widely seen as negative and, in the current Western mindset, negative is usually thought of as ‘bad’. In fact, negative and positive are like night and day, sun and moon, female and male. They are inevitable partners in creation.
Every sufferer knows that depression is not a purely physical affair. Why else would it carry a stigma? It is not seen in a similar way to a broken leg or cancer. The original meaning of suffering is ‘to undergo’. This comes closer to the mark. Most people who suffer from depression, and those who try to help, are aware that it is a part of being and staying alive. We are all happy and unhappy, we all go through the stresses of separation, illness, bereavement and change, more or less traumatic, in the course of our lives.
But not all psychiatrists approach mental health from a limited viewpoint. Joanne Moncrieff says: “If you want to understand mental disturbance, you have to try to understand how it is a response to an individual’s particular circumstances and history.”
Clearly there are extremes where the depressed person is severely disabled from participating in the flow of life. They are stuck. Dr. James Gordon, a Clinical Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, and Founder and Director of the Centre for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, begins his book, Unstuck: Your guide to the Seven-Stage Journey out of Depression* like this:
“Depression is not a disease, the end point of a pathological process. It is a sign that our lives are out of balance, that we’re stuck. It’s a wake-up call and the start of a journey that can help us become whole and happy, a journey that can change and transform our lives.”
So, if depression is caused by being alive, being alive holds the answers to the questions it asks or masks!
Next month I will be writing about ways of being helped, and helping ourselves.
*Dr James Gordon, Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey out of Depression, Hay House, 2008
See also the graphic novel-style books, I Had a Black Dog, and Living with a Black Dog, by Matthew Johnstone (Robinson Publishing, 2007), which use words and pictures to talk honestly about the experience of depression and of living with someone suffering from depression.
Lindie White, 2013
Read our blog on “healthy selfishness” which is an important aspect to fighting depression