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May 01, 2017 10:34 am
:: Depression
Apr 12, 2011 02:16 pm

Often called “the common cold of mental health problems”—10 percent of all Americans suffer from it, with one out of six experiencing a serious episode. Its causes are unclear. Its treatment (pharmacological and psychotherapeutic) costs the nation $43 billion a year, and its numbers are (inexplicably but surely) on the increase. Rates of clinical depression have increased in each succeeding generation after 1915. While it remains prevalent among the elderly the age of diagnosis is gradually dropping. With the drug Prozac— arguably the panacea of the twentieth century—appearing on pediatricians’ (as well as veterinarians’) prescription pads amid a conspicuous arsenal of psychiatric pharmacopoeia, depression is still not being defeated.

So what exactly is it? An imbalance of neurotransmitters—the chemical messengers of the brain—is one answer. Hence the rebalancing by means of anti-depressant drugs, including SSRIs, MAO inhibitors and tricyclics, all but replacing electroconvulsive therapy. But why the imbalance? The answer to this is as comprehensive as whatever life may bring: family context, loss, poor self-esteem, womanhood, adolescence, drug abuse and possibly genetics.

While the ontology of depression belongs to medical discourse, depression exists within a discursive matrix of social relationships, themselves constrained by a variety of socialized and often tacit norms; for example: what behavior may be interpreted as depressed, how to talk and behave around a depressed person and the process of diagnosis. An understanding of depression cannot be divorced from the social and discursive processes in which it is embedded.

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