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Making Sense of Depression



Making Sense of Depression



"These days, most people think of depression in terms of a contemporary pharmacology-based 'medical model', the core of which is the idea that depression is an 'illness' resulting from 'chemical imbalances'."


"You cannot gain pleasure from anything. That's famously the cardinal symptom of major depression... You're mind is leached until you seem dim-witted even to yourself... You lose the ability to trust anyone, to be touched, to grieve. Eventually, you are simply absent from yourself."


"I understand depression to be the beginning of an unfolding process of self-awareness, not the grim end of a disease process... depression's signs and symptoms can be used as opportunities... 'clinically depressed' and ordinarily unhappy and confused people can achieve greater understanding, wholeness, and fulfillment."

Painting by Sharon Burgmayer



Depression ... what is it? A neurochemical imbalance? An illness? A sad feeling? A loss of will? A creative state of being? Something else? Is it reducible to any one of these? Perhaps it is irreducibly all of these and and more? We bring together materials here that we hope will contribute to finding new and more useful ways to think about depression, with the assumption that it is indeed something that fundamentally requires a number of different perspectives to be better understood, and that new stories about it are essential to getting it less wrong.


"It is a weakness rather than a lowness of spirits which troubles me... a coldness and desertion of the spirit"
David Hume: A Letter to a Physician
"People approach issues of mental health from a variety of different perspectives and using a variety of different terminologies... Our ambition here is to contribute to the development and continuing evolution of such critical syntheses." Models of Mental Heatlh: A Critique and Prospectus
"How much of a difference should it make to health care - and health insurance - if a condition is physical or mental?... The problem, of course, is that many of us still tend to think, as the Times puts it, that 'The mind and the body, while linked, are separate. They exist independently, perhaps mingling but not merging'..." The mind-body problem: In theory, in life, in politics
"Such a story of depression as an unconscious/conscious dissocation provides a straightforward explanation of why both pharmacotherapy and talk therapy can be therapeutically effective..." Exploring depression: drugs, psychotherapy, stories, conflicts, a conscious/unconscious dissociation?



Depression: From the Inside

A conversation about experiencing depression - "If depression is genuinely 'psychodynamic' important aspects of it may be invisible except to those actually experiencing it. With this possibility in mind, we here provide excerpts from a conversation about depression among three people..."

Re Exploring depression: "My personal experience" - "Being sad was not something I needed to rid myself of, it was something I needed to embrace and deal with..."

Re Exploring depression: "Notes on Stigma and a combo of therapy and meds for me" - "I lived, not only in a dark cloud of my mother’s deep depressions, but I developed what I call 'the illness of stigma'..."

One Person's Thoughts 


More on Serendip

Thinking more about depression as "adaptive"

Exploring Mental Health

NBS Seminar Spring 08: Psychotherapy and the Brain

NBS Seminar Spring 08: Psychosomatics

Women Living Well Seminar: Mind and Body Connection

Depression... Or (better?) Thinking About Mood

Review of Peter Kramer's "Against Depression" from Serendip's Bookshelves


Elsewhere on the web

The Persistence of Sadness




Asuka Kazama's picture

About depression Without

About depression
Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes. To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life

ted's picture

The support of close family

The support of close family members and friends is very important. Taking anti depressants is not an insurance policy against future relapses.

Been there, done that... Moved on....'s picture

The support of close family

Depression... hmmm You gotta trust someone, totally, someone that ONLY has your best interests at heart and yes usually it is family, occasionally friends. Know who you can trust and trust them. They will tell you the truth that you need to hear with compassion and love, no self interest. Depression if not dealt with in the early stages can lead to either an on-going cycle of non self actualisation. A big secret tip is that when you get out of the depressive state of mind you deal with the real cause, not just the symptom/s, for example I was emotionally abused by my husband, but the cause .... I thought I wasn't good enough - I allowed negative self talk to affirm itself in my thinking that I did not stand up for what I know is true. I am good enough, good enough for me and too good for my ex husband :-) though it did take 9 years.....1) trust someone who has your interests at heart. Someone who supports you, provides information, facts. My mum did that! For 6 weeks I recovered, corrected my thinking which in turn corrected the chemical imbalance. 2) Yes I took a sleeping tablet initially... one... I hadn't slept for over a two weeks... that will cause a chemical imbalance! 3) Long term anti depressants or any drug of dependance only hides the cause, it doesn't heal it. But do take something if it is going to help in the short-term knowing that it is only for that purpose alone 4) See a specialist or discline yourself in self help if you have the family/friend support that gives you the space you need to work it out but the guidance and direction to keep you on track in terms of correcting your thinking 5) Be positive and have family and friends that are positive around you. Get rid of your negative thoughts and hang around people with good thoughts, generally and about you. 6) Finally, Be grateful for the support your family and friends give, they are human too and doing their best to help you, the best they can. Let them know how you feel, what support you need from them. Share your load - one could do research, another - unconditional love and hugs, another physical stuff like keeping your house in order, washing, taking out your rubbish bin, etc. Increase your network of support - family, friends, support groups, specialists, etc but your family let them help you in their own way as long as it is helpful. Your support group must have faith and belief in you too, just as you have faith in them. Your support group will talk about you but only to help you. Make sure you talk to them and be confident and happy because they are working together to help you. Mum, dad, brother, sister, good friends, etc. 7) On the road to recovery - take small steps... go on that picnic with the ones you trust. Slowly go other places, stop judging yourself and start socialising, little by little, step by step... By this stage the chemical imbalance is correcting itself. Go back to work or to your routine, if you don't have one, create one... volunteering once a week, a walk for half hour every day... start putting some healthy wellbeing practices into place. If looking after little ones, take the responsbility gently, make sure the enironment is safe for you and your children. Move back to your parents if you need (I did for 6 weeks and it was the best decision I made)...Fill the environment with love. 8) Finally back on your own 2 feet.. keep the support networks, they are your true friends. Study stuff on self dialogue, assertion, self esteem, confidence, mananging stress, prioritising, organisational skills, life a manage your finance course. Stick with what you learn. Deal with stressors before they overwhelm you. Overcome your fear of success and accept success in your life.

Anonymous's picture


Dear Cynthia, you are speaking about the 10 years '85-'95 after 12-13 years, if you have this question in your mind today, you have been trying to know for all these years. The sum of it all is that you are right about the relationship between depression and brain functioning - they are related. Something is wrong somehwere when one thinks in such conditions - its disharmony and unconnectedness of some thoughts and values in your mind make you ask this question this time.

I think you need to go on taking each thought sliver and subject it to above mentioned two factors - you yourself can find out the answer.Nothing escapes from your mind but it needs to be connected - commit all your thoughts and memories if required write them in a small notebook , but do it yourself, you know it does not call for any medication nor exercise so no risk - one has to do this oneself one owes it to self. Is it not?

Cynthia Henderson's picture


Having suffered with depression from 1985-1995,I was interested in this aspect of brain funtioning.My moter was severely depressed for years.This mental illness has resulted in other illness;heart problems.I wonder if the two are related or connected.Circumstances can play a huge role in this type of neurobiology in human behavior.

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