I’m finishing the first draft of my self-help manual for treating depression. One of the main points of the book is that it’s often helpful to see depression as a condition that can be dramatically improved, or even cured, by doing things on your own. Such as the kinds of things you can find in any book or good website dealing with behavioral or cognitive behavioral treatments. Because it’s a well-established fact (established by real researchers, not pharma company stooges) that these techniques can work.
But right now, just a few words about the importance of not being brainwashed, so to speak, about what depression actually is. Simply put, do you see it as something you “have” (like a case of the hives, or diarrhea)? Or something that, at least in part, you DO. (Such as by adopting unhealthy habits of thought: seeing things as more dismal than they are, say)?
Here’s the problem: nowadays, despite all we know about the essential role of skill-focused treatments such as cognitive-behavior therapy in treating depression, most physicians never even mention those kind of approaches to their patients. Since most people get their mental health treatment from primary physicians, they don’t even hear about these powerful approaches.
What they do hear about, from doctors and from websites, is the old singsong: “depression is a chemical imbalance.” This is partly because people pick these things up and share them with each other, and the “chemical imbalance” thing has become a popular cliché.
The pharmaceutical industry spends millions and millions of dollars every year to market antidepressants. We are surrounded by ads which all convey the same message: you need a pill for this. This message is so much out there that it affects what people blog about and put on their Facebook pages: everybody agrees that every and any kind of down mood is a so-called “chemical imbalance” and the treatment is medication.
This is at best a half-truth. It may be bit more true if your condition is bipolar disorder, which does seem to have more of a genetic component, and which can be more difficult to manage with psychological treatments alone. But for most other forms of depression, it’s by no means so clear, or useful to blame your poor brain for everything.
(It is also not so clear that antidepressants are as powerful and effective as the drug companies want us to believe — particularly since we’ve learned that they tend to fund “research studies” on their own drugs, but have been systematically burying any results that don’t show the drugs to be super effective.)
This business-based attempt to “define reality” for you (because that’s what it is) is pretty typical in our society. We are often told that we need this or that thing to solve some problem we didn’t even know we had. Do you really need a car that will drive down rocky streams? How often have you used it for that, instead of for driving to Wal-mart? In fact, why would anyone “need” a sixty thousand dollar car when a twelve-thousand dollar car drives just as far and just as fast? Exactly.
It’s the same with the depression industry.
So here is my first bit of advice: in understanding depression, try to be aware that you are being surrounded by messages that have as their purpose, sometimes, nothing more than making a lot of money for a drug company. Money which you (either directly, or through your insurance) must pay out. As if becoming poorer should somehow make you happier.
Give your poor brain a bit of benefit of the doubt here. Put blaming your brain (which you are doing every time you repeat the mantra, “chemical imbalance”) on hold for a minute, and consider a completely different way of viewing depression: that at least in part, depression is something you do, not something you “have.”
And that any quick Google search for “cognitive behavioral techniques for treating depression” may yield as many simple, effective ideas, ideas that if tried, may give you the same 2% boost in mood that a single dose of a pill will, on average, if it is an “effective” medication. (I’ll talk more about this “2% improvement” number in later posts.)
Excerpted from the forthcoming The Five Stroke Depression Cure, by Greg Korgeski, Ph.D., copyright 2012