When you are depressed and anxious, you get hit by two kinds of stigma. People will often say that you’re being weak or self-indulgent and just need to snap out of it.
But there’s a stigma that’s even worse than that: You tell yourself the same message. When I first became depressed, as a teenager, I felt that pain was leaking out of me and I couldn’t stop it. I explained this to my doctor in a state of crouched shame. I thought the problem was “all in my head” — meaning it was imaginary.
In Western society, we’ve been trying to fight this crippling stigma in one way. We tell depressed and anxious people: This isn’t happening to you because you are weak. It is happening to you mainly because there is a problem inside your brain.
Three decades after this approach began, where are we? Now 1 in 5 Americans has taken a psychiatric drug and every year, the depression and anxiety crisis gets worse, while the stigma isn’t shrinking. I spent three years researching this subject to find out why — and to see if there is a better way to find our way out of the stigma, and out of depression.
According to some of the most distinguished scientists in the field, depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains. The World Health Organization, in fact, finds that the causes are largely “social.” They are not primarily in our heads, but instead largely in the way we are living today. I found evidence playing out all around us.
For example, if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become depressed. If you are lonely, you are far more likely to become anxious. If you go through a traumatic childhood, you are 3,100 percent more likely to attempt suicide as an adult. This points to a very different way out of depression.
A South African psychiatrist named Dr. Derek Summerfield was carrying out some research in Cambodia when chemical antidepressants were first introduced there in 2000. He explained to the doctors what they were, and they replied that they didn’t need them because they already had antidepressants. Puzzled, he asked what they meant. They told him about a local rice farmer who one day stood on a land mine and had his leg blown off. They gave him an artificial limb and he went back to work in the fields, but he began to weep all day and became depressed.
Read it on nypost.com