Is Depression an Illness?…

At first when I read this article, “Is Depression an Illness? Or Part of the Human Condition?”, yesterday it was kind of ironic.  I had just posed the question to my therapist on Monday of can Depression be cured since it is labeled a disorder?  His summation of the question led to the theory that professionals now believe Mental Illnesses such as Anxiety, Depression, Panic Disorder, etc are not necessarily Illnesses but rather spectrums.  These spectrums have levels with low being the ordinary human being, to a point somewhat in the middle that points to those like me who have issues typically coping and fall under the title of “Disorder”.

When I read this article (see above) by Chantal Marie Gagnon, PhD, LMHC, at first I was rather shocked to hear a psychiatrist admit that she does not believe these illnesses are real.  She, along with my therapist, agree that to some level, all human beings will experience depression and anxiety.  Because of this, Ms. Gagnon states, “Are we all disordered? Do we all need medication?”  She then goes on to admit that her and her fellow constituents “fail to give people the knowledge, support, and tools they need to move past those difficult period.” 

This got me thinking, am I really ill?  I suppose those who have a lower degree of depression and/or anxiety have formed coping techniques that aid them through their time of hardship.  This is something I greatly lack.  I still haven’t fully developed coping techniques and I do believe it is because of this that I quickly become so far gone that medications and therapy are needed to bring me back.

She goes on to state that “the medical model of labeling feelings as “illnesses” limits recovery options”.  She continues to say that as Americans we have been bred to believe that if we have an illness, we need medication to recover.  Other countries believe in looking at diet, exercise and forms of meditation first before handing over a prescription for a controlled substance.  She blames the psychiatrists, including herself, of doing this to sustain their income.  I agree to some extent.  All the times I ever walked into a psychiatrist’s office, they have been more than happy to send me off after the 10 minutes of getting to know me with a script for Ativan.  This only continues to build my annoyance with the Mental Health Care system here in America.

But do I believe that I could have overcome my Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and this 6th episode of Depression and Anxiety without medication?  Do I think I could have survived them with diet, exercise, psychotherapy, yoga and meditation alone?  NO!  I was to the point of Anorexia this last time because I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t eat because my Anxiety was so severe.  Telling me to eat better and exercise would have been a sarcastically mean retort.  I definitely had a Disorder.

But at what point does my Major Depressive Disorder change into just a past episode of Depression? I always imagined that Depression and Anxiety remained with me and just had periods of dormancy.  Could I be wrong?  If I am, what does that mean?  Where does that put me now, not quite suffering but not quite cured…

My therapist joked, “You are in partial remission with Major Depressive Disorder.”  Hmm… sounds a bit too complex.

The part of the article that struck me was when Ms. Gagnon’s colleague, Dr. Barry Duncan states, “As crazy as it sounds, problems, like depression, also provide possibilities for living our lives differently, for reaching new conclusions. Depression is obviously painful, and it brings attention to the fact we are not happy with some aspect of our lives. The depression, therefore, can be a life-transformation vehicle.”

Yes!  Right on!  All my episodes have always had me digging deeper into my soul.  I questioned my happiness with my career, my family, my friends and my hobbies.  Therapy helped me comprehend what wasn’t going right and in turn gave me the tools to alter my perspectives.  Like the article states, I constantly battled with my identity each time.  Who was I?  Did Depression and Anxiety define me? Coming out of each bout has made me wiser and more aware at what triggers me and what my feelings are when these illnesses are returning.  I have grown from them.

Her final debate is the argument about labeling Depression an illness due to biochemical properties.  I have read countless articles that to some point explain Depression as not producing enough Serotonin.  According to the study in this article, those patients given a placebo over an actual antidepressant did about the same.  The study continues to state “that a psychiatrist with a positive therapeutic alliance with his patients was more effective in improving depression symptoms with a placebo than was a psychiatrist with a poor therapeutic alliance administering a real antidepressant drug” (Krupnick, J., Sotsky, S. M., Simmens, S., Moyer, J., Elkin, I., Watkins, J., & Pilkonis, P.A., 1996).

Hmmm…. the above again supporting the need for Mental Health reform in the US.  That being said, it is true to fact and I totally agree that psychotherapy has done more for me than my medications.  Of course, I am thankful to my medications for what they have done for my psyche.  In my opinion (again, I have no medical background, just experience), I tend to think that for some, Depression and Anxiety are Disorders and this may be because of genetics, because of biochemical factors and because of environmental factors.  I know many aside from myself who will agree that if it wasn’t for their meds, they wouldn’t be here.  That in itself says it all.

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