Greening the Blues
1st October, 2005
If you split post-operative patients into two groups, giving one a view of trees and the other a view of a brick wall, the group that was exposed to the trees will need fewer painkillers, develop fewer complications and will
check themselves out of hospital more quickly than the group with the urban view. Isn't it time to accept that some of the distress we currently feel is tied to the world beyond the consulting room, to this planet of ours that's
become so stripped and bare?
Despite the bright ads for Zoloft and Paxil, depression remains taboo. It's the emotion that shouldn't be mentioned, the all-encompassing feeling we're not supposed to have. In a society that prizes flawlessness, and that relentlessly assures us that all our needs are being met, personal pain in the form of depression emerges as a failing, as an emotional mistake we have to correct.
The idea of a depression as a problem in need of a cure is driven home by Dr Peter Kramer, the best-selling writer and psychiatrist, in his new book, Against Depression. In it, Kramer emphasises that depression has nothing to tell us about ourselves or the world we live in. For Kramer, depression is 'illness merely', much like psoriasis or diabetes, and if you fail to understand this, it's because your thinking is badly out of date. You don't realise that there's now evidence of a 'physical substrate' to depression - abnormalities in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex - and that this pathology is incompatible with meaning. If you wouldn't listen to syphilis, Kramer asks in a cute aside, why would you do so with depression?
Kramer's attempt to shoe-horn depression into the physical illness camp could...
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