Rethinking Depression

I’m thrilled to have one of my creative heroes, Dr. Eric Maisel, guest-posting on my blog today. He’s so extraordinarily productive (having authored 35 books and counting) that, if he weren’t such a nice guy, I’d have to hate him.

I first encountered Eric’s work eight years ago when I was looking for resources to develop a course on Creativity that I was teaching at the Vancouver Film School. Eric’s The Creativity Book was a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration. In more recent years, I picked up Fearless Creating, which formed the basis for my course, “Stoking Your Creative Fire,” which I will soon be offering as a teleclass. Eric is also the originator of the exciting 21st century profession, creativity coaching. I’ve taken two of his courses, which are predictably brilliant, and am close to completing my certification through the Creativity Coaching Association.

My blog is one stop in a tour in which Eric is promoting his new book, Rethinking Depression. It challenges the prevailing perception of depression as a disorder that needs to be fixed and medicated away, and instead offers a perspective and step-by-step approach that encourages us to make meaning rather than monitor moods. I’ve struggled with depression at different points in my life – what human worth his or her salt hasn’t? – and I am delighted to see this intelligent, kind and practical book arrive on the scene.

The following Q&A will give you some deeper insight into Rethinking Depression:

The first section of your book focuses on debunking depression as a “mental illness,” which is not to say that sadness and unhappiness cannot be debilitating. Can you briefly describe the main thrust of your argument?

What I hope to demonstrate is that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we name and treat certain human phenomena. When we call something a “mental disease” or a “mental disorder” we imply a great deal about its origins, its treatment, its intractability, and its locus of control. The mental health industry has its reasons for calling life’s challenges “disorders,” but we have few good reasons to collude with them. I ask that readers who do feel depressed seek help. I hope that this books aids people in understanding what help to ask for from professionals and what help we should realize they can’t possibly offer us.

If there is “mental disorder of depression,” why are millions of people convinced that “depression” exists?

As soon as you employ the interesting linguistic tactic of calling every unwanted aspect of life abnormal, you are on the road to pathologizing everyday life. By making every unwanted experience a piece of pathology, it becomes possible to knit together disorders that have the look but not the reality of medical illness. This is what has happened in our “medicalize everything” culture. In fact, the word depression has virtually replaced unhappiness in our internal vocabularies. We feel sad but we call ourselves depressed. Having unconsciously made this linguistic switch, when we look for help we naturally turn to a “depression expert.” We look to a pill, a therapist, a social worker, or a pastoral counselor – even if we’re sad because we’re having trouble paying the bills, because our career is not taking off, or because our relationship is on the skids. That is, even if our sadness is rooted in our circumstances, social forces cause us to name that sadness “depression” and to look for “help with our depression.” People have been trained to call their sadness “depression” by the many forces acting upon them, from the mental health industry to mass culture to advertising.

Why is recognizing the role of unhappiness in our lives an important feature of “rethinking depression?”

To acknowledge the reality of unhappiness is not to assert the centrality of unhappiness. In fact, it is just the opposite. By taking the common human experience of unhappiness out of the shadows and acknowledging its existence, we begin to reduce its power. At first it is nothing but painful to say, “I am profoundly unhappy.” The words cut to the quick. They seem to come with a life sentence and allow no room for anything sweet or hopeful. But the gloom can lift. It may lift of its own accord–or it may lift because you have a strong existential program in place whereby you pay more attention to your intentions than to your mood. One decision that an existentially aware person makes is to focus on making meaning rather than on monitoring moods.

What does your Existential Program offer people who are hoping to shed the mental illness label of depression?

I ask that people take as much control as possible of their thoughts, their attitudes, their moods, their behaviours, and their very orientation toward life and turn their innate freedom into a virtue and a blessing. Even if people decide to take antidepressants or engage in psychotherapy to get help with their unhappiness, they will still have to find ways of dealing with their meaning needs, the shadows of their personality, their consciousness of mortality, and the facts of existence. This book offers guidance in all of those areas.

Rethinking Depression is a fantastic resource. Do check it out.

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2 thoughts on “Rethinking Depression

  1. Clelia Wilson

    I will be buying his book. I so completely agree with his point of view. Saying “I’m depressed” has become a catch phrase for all unwanted and scary feelings that go against the elevation of positive thinking in our society. How much more powerful it would be if we were to honour the root causes of depression, tend to them as we would a garden that needs revival.

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