If you have been living with depression long enough, you will inevitably face the question of whether managing your depression is enough. Many lawyers dealing with depression (and there are 200,000 in America) are struggling to get rid of their symptoms of depression. I understand the value and necessity of this all too well. But once the symptoms seem manageable, what next?
In his book, What Happy People Know, psychologist, Dan Baker, offers his criticisms of much of modern day psychology: “Clinical psychology – the treatment in a clinical setting of people with mental disorders – was begun with great fanfare as an adjunct to modern medicine in the late 1800s. It was patterned after the conventional medical model of fighting pathology. Clinical psychology was based on the assumption that most people are mentally healthy – and happy- but some people contract mental pathologies that conform to neat diagnostic compartments, and require standardized treatments. The only problem is that it doesn’t work very well. It fails approximately two-thirds of the time.” As I write, let it be known that I attend therapy twice per month!
There is a great debate worldwide about the causes of depression. Most agree that it is a complex condition related to a combination of factors both genetic and environmental. While there is value in thinking about depression as a disease of sorts – say on par with diabetes or heart disease – there is a real danger to as well. That’s because it isn’t just a “disease;” it’s also a psychological and spiritual malady. If those aspects aren’t addressed, those who suffer from it may never taste the wonder and joy of life. They are left with the discontent of a life where they are only managing their depressive symptoms. Don’t we have the right to expect more?
Dr. Baker central point is that the approach of clinical psychology was not designed to help people find happiness. “It assumed that if mental illness were cured, happiness would naturally follow, as the normal human condition. But that doesn’t happen for the vast majority of people.” He continues, “I believe that even when people do not have diagnosable psychological illness, they still cannot be considered psychologically healthy unless they are happy. The absence of disease is not the same as health, just as the absence of poverty is not the same as wealth.” For a further exploration of the issue of happiness, see the interesting article in The Atlantic Magazine, “What Makes Us Happy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Interesting, Mr. Shenk is the author of Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.
I believe Dr. Baker’s point is well taken. Yes, it is critically important to treat the symptoms of clinical depression. But we must stop and pause: is that enough? If it is, I can’t help but feel as though we have allowed ourselves to be victims on some level. Depression then has the danger of defining our identities as people. We are more than that. We must aspire to live a fuller life with times of joy, happiness and a sense of being alive. As Mark Twain once wrote, “Let us endeavor to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”