A few days ago, there was an interesting item in the Dear Abby column of our local newspaper. Dear Abby is a general advice column written by Jeanne Phillips, and is widely read.
The letter in question was written by “Sibling Standing By,” who described his/her 63 year old sister as someone who “…takes no responsibility for her health.” The sibling goes on to say:
“She’s extremely overweight because she overeats and doesn’t exercise. She complains every day that she feels ‘terrible.’ (I call it self-pitying whining.)”
In her reply, Ms. Phillips, among other things, stated that the family members might
“…suggest that she might have a touch of depression that could be helped if she brings it to the attention of her doctor. Tell her you all love her, that you’re worried about her, and are willing to help her schedule an appointment with her physician if she’s willing. I think that would be a loving thing to do.”
Ms. Phillips frequently endorses the bio-psychiatric position that depression is an illness and can be “treated” by physicians.
For an advice column of this sort to succeed, it must have the three R’s: readability, relevance, and resonance.
Readability and relevance are obvious. What I mean by resonance is that the advice tendered has to resonate strongly with a large proportion of the readership. In this sense, Dear Abby is a kind of barometer of societal views on a wide range of issues.
But the Dear Abby column isn’t just a reflection of societal views, it is also to some extent a shaper of public opinion. By repeating frequently the mantra that depression is an illness to be treated by drugs, the Dear Abby column has become a significant factor in the dissemination and acceptance of this spurious notion.
I have written to Dear Abby to point out that the illness theory is a spurious assumption, but I’m sure my letter went into the “cranks and eccentrics” pile.
The general point here, is that pharma-psychiatry is deeply enmeshed. You will find the “depression-is-an-illness” mantra in newspapers, magazines, TV shows, movies, and also, of course, in pharmaceutical company commercials.
We have a great deal of work ahead of us.