depression v. unhappiness

I found this via LES JONES (via Kevin Baker, in Theodore Dalrymple's "The Frivolity of Evil":

"There is something to be said here about the word "depression," which has almost entirely eliminated the word and even the concept of unhappiness from modern life. Of the thousands of patients I have seen, only two or three have ever claimed to be unhappy: all the rest have said that they were depressed. This semantic shift is deeply significant, for it implies that dissatisfaction with life is itself pathological, a medical condition, which it is the responsibility of the doctor to alleviate by medical means. Everyone has a right to health; depression is unhealthy; therefore everyone has a right to be happy (the opposite of being depressed). This idea in turn implies that one's state of mind, or one's mood, is or should be independent of the way that one lives one's life, a belief that must deprive human existence of all meaning, radically disconnecting reward from conduct."

I think this is a radically important commentary. It's true, one rarely hears anyone say they are "unhappy" any more. Instead, unhappiness has been replaced with "depression," which is a real, organic disease for some people, but isn'tthe same as unhappiness.

I was very unhappy for a period of time and was told by my family doctor that I was "suffering from depression." He was wrong, however.

I was, in fact, suffering, but the suffering was supposed to spur me to change what was making me unhappy, which it eventually did. When I made that change, I was no longer unhappy. My suffering was alleviated.

Clinical depression is unhappiness without discernible cause. Suffering and unhappiness are something entirely different from depression and are an important part of the human process of growth and change.


Anonymous said...

I dont believe it but I agree with you on something.

sajmom said...

Interesting post-I went through a period of "depression" following the birth of my first child. I really felt there was nothing chemical about it, it wasn't the sort of thing you could treat. Symptoms described for baby blues or depression didn't exactly fit-I didn't have a loss of appetite or lose interest in things. I didn't have bad feelings towards the baby. Eventually the depression wore away and I didn't feel so bad anymore. After doing some reading I later decided that my feelings were more a result of social causes than chemical. Attitudes and expectations. I am reluctant to say that I was unhappy, rather than depressed, because to me that seems like saying there was no happiness. And I definetly felt happiness(especially in regards to the baby itself)during that period.

trumwill said...

The only issue I would have with the distinctions is that most people suffering from depression will find some discernable reason to feel that way. Things that don't ordinarily bother people will bother them. They'll repetitively focus on problems or even potential problems in a vicious cycle that they can't get out of. If people suffering from depression knew that there was no reason to feel that way, it'd be a heck of a lot easier to diagnose. Of course, add to this the fact that depression often causes things to be depressed about (lost friends, seemingly-physical ailment, chemical addiction, and so on), and it gets awfully tricky.

katie allison granju said...

That's a very good point


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