Like most mental health writers, I have compared depression to other illnesses like diabetes in the past, and stressed the biochemical aspect of mood disorders in my efforts at reducing stigma. Somehow talking about the gene G72/G30 located on chromosome 13q (that may predispose individuals to depression and bipolar disorder) makes it more legitimate, as if the gene proves we aren’t making it up. However, the more I read about how abuse, trauma, and chronic stress—unresolved issues of all kinds–can cause and aggravate depression, the less I want to compare it to diabetes.
Taking insulin really isn’t the same thing as taking an antidepressant.
It’s not that simple.
As I wrote about in my recent blog about SSRIs, the theory that depressed people suffer from a lack of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which are replenished by antidepressants, sounds good, but isn’t totally accurate. SSRIs aren’t like insulin in that they fill in a deficiency. In fact, we still don’t really know how they work, but they certainly do for many people.
In his chapter “A Heroic Passage” in the book “Darkness Before Dawn,” psychiatrist James Gordon writes, “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 wakeup call and the start of a journey that can help us become whole and happy, a hero’s journey that can change and transform our lives.”
Part of me cringes when I read that.
Forever stuck in my brain is renowned psychiatrist Peter Kramer’s quote: “Depression is not a perspective. It is a disease. To see the worst things a person can see is one experience; to suffer mood disorder is another.”