Depression is now well established within the public lexicon and the public mind as a reality, a real thing. A Google search for depression yields over a billion results. More than one million Google searches for depression are carried out each month. Articles on depression regularly appear in the media. It might therefore seem strange to even question the assertion that depression is real.
Many celebrities now talk openly about their personal experience of depression. For example, actress Kristen Bell has spoken publicly about her depression. She has publicly stated that a brain chemical imbalance runs in her family, and that this is why she developed depression:
Medical sources that are widely assumed to be trustworthy and authoritative consistently claim that depression is real, a real medical illness. Here are some examples of this:
Trusting these seemingly authoritative sources, mental health professionals and the public understandably assume these and similar assertions to be true, and operate from that position.
However, something does not exist simply because people and/or groups say it does, no matter how apparently authoritative and trustworthy they are believe to be.
As a general rule, asserting that something exists does not of itself demonstrate that it exists. In order for something to be accepted as real, as a fact, confirmatory evidence is required.
This is perhaps even more relevant in situations where there is considerable trust, since high levels of trust can lull us into complacency regarding our instinctive need to check things out, to be sure that what we are being told is indeed correct.
High levels of trust – the medical profession are one of the most highly trusted professions worldwide – can also lead us to assume that those we trust have no vested interest, objective, and that their words can be taken as correct and true without a need to test their veracity.
I learned years ago that these were risky assumptions to make, particularly in relation to psychiatry. As I discuss elsewhere, psychiatry is far from objective, being heavily invested in its own priorities. For example, the repeatedly-stated assertion that so-called psychiatric disorders are fundamentally biological in nature is based not on the fact that such claims are true – they are not.
So, to check the veracity to mainstream psychiatry claims that depression is a real medical illness, it is better to look to objective sources, that have no gain from and no vested interest in claiming depression to be a medical illness.
Since the type of illness that depression is most commonly claimed to be is a brain disorder, let us check with sources that are authoritative and reliable regarding brain disorders – neurology sources.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is, as the name implies, America’s national institute of neurological disorders, officially backed by the American government.
Prominent on this Institute’s website is the most comprehensive list of brain and neurological disorders I have ever seen in 35 years as a physician.
So comprehensive is this list that it contains dozens of brain disorders so rare that I have never seen a case, and many others than I have never heard of. Rare those these brain disorders are, their place on this list is justified, since they meet the criteria for a brain disorder. That’s why they are on this list.
Depression – claimed to be a very common medical condition – is not included in this list.
Why? Simple really. What doctors refer to as depression does not meet long-established medical criteria for a brain disorder or a medical illness.
In the screenshot below of brain and neurological disorders on the neurological disorders list on the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website, the yellow arrow indicates where depression would be listed:
The WebMD website is a trusted source of medical information worldwide, consistently ranking in the top three most trusted sites for medical advice.
As the following diagram illustrates, the webMD website contains a list of brain diseases:
On the left hand side of the above image, several known brain diseases are mentioned – infections, trauma (physical brain trauma), strokes, seizures and tumours as ‘some of the main categories of brain diseases’.
Although depression – a claimed brain disorder – is asserted to be far more common than any of these brain diseases, there is no mention of depression here – or any other psychiatric diagnosis – as a brain disease. This is because depression is not a known and scientifically verified brain disorder.
On the right hand side of the above diagram, there are seven categories of brain disease: infections; seizures; trauma (physical brain trauma resulting from physical brain injury); tumours, masses and increased intracranial pressure; vascular conditions; autoimmune conditions’ and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimers disease.
Given that, according to proponents of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the DSM, the foremost psychiatric diagnostic guide book, often referred to as ‘the psychiatrist’s bible’ – approximately 50% of the population would be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder of the DSM was fully implemented, psychiatric diagnoses are made far more frequently than any of the seven diagnostic categories listed on this diagram of the WebMD website brain disease list.
Yet there is no category for mental illness with the WedMD list of brain diseases. Nor is there a single reference to depression or any other psychiatric diagnosis as being a brain disease. Because they are not known verified brain diseases/disorders.
As the following statements from their website affirm, The Brain Foundation is an independent objective organisation:
The (Australian) Brain Foundation explicitly focuses on neurological disorders, brain disease and brain injuries, as the diagram above clearly illustrates.
The Brain Foundation website contains a list of brain diseases and disorders, organised in user-friendly fashion in alphabetical order. If depression is a known and scientifically verified brain disease/disorder, then of course depression would be included in this list.
The following screenshot from the Brain Foundation website includes brain diseases/disorders beginning with the letters ‘B’ through to ‘F’. No mention of depression under ‘d’ here. Several of the conditions listed under ‘d’ occur far less commonly than depression is claimed to occur.
Depression is not included in this list because it is not a known and verified medical brain disorder.
Depression is not real, in the sense that what doctors refer to as depression does not meet the medical criteria for a medical illness or brain disorder.
The experiences, beliefs and behaviours that are regularly re-framed by doctors as ‘depression’ are very real,and often excruciating.
These experiences should be addressed in their own right, rather than being erroneously lumped together as a medical illness that does not exist.
The following are some of the experiences, beliefs and behaviours that are commonly present within people who become diagnosed as having depression:
Wounded sense of self; hopelessness; powerlessness; much wounding, and many consequences of wounding including various defense mechanisms such as hyper-vigilance and avoidance; great fearfulness; many needs not met in their life, with little confidence that they can get their needs met; unfinished emotional business; easily hurt; much emotion and distress; frequent overwhelm; greatly reduced sense of self, including self-confidence; self-expression; self-belief; self-generated security; great self-doubt, that permeated across most areas of their life; fear of risk, including fear of risking taking the steps they meed to make to progress their life.
As a medical illness, depression is not real. Depression is not a thing. It is not a known and verified medical illness.
However, the individual experiences, beliefs and behaviours themselves – that doctors collectively refer to as depression – these are very real and often excruciating and highly problematic.
Since what is referred to as depression is not a real medical illness, acting as if it is a real medical illness has many obvious limitations.
A way forward involves working with the individual experiences, beliefs and behaviours, not with the notion of ‘depression’.
I have been working in this way for twenty years. Working in this way opens up many avenues of potential within the work that cannot become available when seeking to address something that does not actually exist – ‘depression’ – as if it does exist.
Regularly getting it wrong at first base in this manner, it is not surprising that the potential within mainstream mental health services for progress and recovery can become significantly limited.
If you would like to delve deeper into what depression really is – as opposed to what ‘depression’ is regularly asserted to be – my online course for mental health professionals – Depression: Its True Nature – for mental health professionals may be of interest to you.
I also have a course on depression for non-professionals – including people diagnosed with depression – which you can access at Depression: Its True Nature – for the general public.
As I have set out within this article, depression is real, but not in the way in which it is commonly understood.
The experiences, beliefs and behaviours are real, valid and often very distressing. However there is no scientific basis for extrapolating that these experiences, beliefs and behaviours constitute a thing called ‘depression’.
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