I keep two dictionaries on my desk. The first is a 1964 Webster’s; the second is a 2009 Webster’s. This morning I looked up the word “depression” in both books.
n. 1. a depressing or being depressed. 2. a depressed part or place; hollow or low place. 3. low spirits; dejection. 4. a decrease in force, activity, amount, etc. 5. a period marked by slackening of business activity, much unemployment, falling prices and wages, etc.
1 a: the angular distance of a celestial object below the horizon b: the size of an angle of depression 2: an act of depressing or a state of being depressed: as a: a pressing down: LOWERING b(1): a state of feeling sad: DEJECTION (2): a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked esp. by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies c(1): a reduction in activity, amount, quality, or force (2): a lowering of vitality or functional activity 3: a depressed place or part: HOLLOW 4: LOW 1b 5: a period of low general economic activity marked esp. by rising levels of unemployment
I was a little surprised, because I thought that the notion of depression as an illness had been current by 1964, and perhaps other dictionaries at the time might have reflected that. But the point is that conceptualizing depression as an illness is a relatively recent phenomenon which has been fully integrated into the language.
In the 50’s and 60’s, if a person said he was depressed, friends and family members used to ask questions like: What’s the matter? What’s got you down? Is there something I can do? etc…
The prevailing ethos was that the depression was rooted in the individual’s context, and was intrinsically understandable within that context. The individual might respond that the children were sick; or that he had been laid off; or that he just felt overwhelmed by a lot of little things, etc..
This would usually be followed by commiserations, efforts to help, encouragement, etc., and for the most part bouts of depression were relatively short-lived and non-recurrent.
Today, however, if a person indicates that he’s depressed, there is a widespread tendency to encourage him to “get help.” This almost always means psychiatric help. The ethos has changed. No longer is depression seen as one of the relatively ordinary facets of living, to be alleviated by old-fashioned support and encouragement from family and friends. Today depression is an “illness.” It’s “treated” by pills which often produce more problems than they solve. And bouts of depression are much more likely to become recurrent.
In the old days people conceptualized their depression as a problem that they could do something about. “I just need to get outdoors a bit more.” “I need to change jobs.” “I need to lay off the booze.” Etc…
Today this is gone. Instead we hear: “I need to renew my prescription.” “I need to ask the doctor to up my dose.” Etc…
Psychiatry/pharma laud this change. They claim that we are finally recognizing the reality, and alleviating the suffering of this “illness.” In fact, it’s a tragedy of monumental proportions, that’s not only destroying people physically, but is sapping the strength and vitality of whole generations worldwide.
The shift to the spurious disease concept is not based on any kind of scientific discovery. It is a product of psychiatry/pharma marketing, which is one of the most destructive forces in modern society.