You are sad more days than not.
You no longer take pleasure in activities you used to enjoy.
You feel a sense of dread as your eyes flutter open each morning.
Your psychotherapist listens to these symptoms and others. After an hour the therapist informs you “you have depression” or if they are really precise “you are clinically depressed.”
Does this really validate your experience of these feelings? Does it point to the causes? Does it evoke a sense of autonomy or ability to manage? Does it outline a path toward your healthiest self? Would you think differently if you knew that calling it clinical depression ensured a billable hour for your therapist?
While these labels are not entirely arbitrary and do describe a constellation of symptoms they fail to recognize the true complexity of human experience. It is much easier to call the experience of loosing a loved one, divorce, affairs, betrayal, job loss, change in career, or one of the other ways in which we as humans are forced to endure change “depression” or “anxiety.”
The problem comes as the public embraces these labels and scientists hypothesize about brain chemicals they cannot measure, leading the consumer to believe these labels are a permanent fixed state.
The true injustice of this issue in our society becomes most clear to me when I hear women repeat in the therapy room, “my anxiety…., “my depression…,” “it isn’t my partner, it’s my anxiety.” In those moments I am reminded of all the ways in which women are trained to be peacemakers from a young age. It is easier for some women to accept a permanent life of depression and anxiety than to set a boundary with a loved one.
These labels, “depression,” “anxiety,” “bi-polar,” can be dangerous generalizations of societal problems like racism, sexism, and poverty. They only keep people stuck and keep providers and clients from talking about the real issues like the affair, the death, the loss, and uncertainty. Or more dangerous they prevent conversations about safety in relationships, what leads a person to believing suicide is an option, the feeling of being an inadequate parent, or the fear of loosing a partner or spouse.
Let’s talk about what is really happening.