Thursday, 4 October 2007

If Depression Is Not a Disease, Is Despair One of the Seven Deadly Sins?

Quebec’s health minister Philippe Couillard has just announced $1.2 million for a publicity campaign to de-stigmatize depression. It’s a real disease, with important consequences for individuals and society, he insisted, adding that the World Health Organization projects that depression will be the second most frequent cause of incapacity (after cardiovascular problems) by 2020. We must understand and accept that some people some of the time will be brought low by depression which they can not control, but which may be managed by proper medical treatment.

Anyone who has watched a friend or family member suffer with depression knows just how damaging it can be. Life is not easy and there is only one way out: that truism is something most of us can bear, but when one can’t, it is devastating. It does no good to say “snap out of it,” because one can’t easily.

But the equation is even more complicated than that. Depression’s cousin, despair, was once considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The reasoning was, apparently, that if one put one’s faith in god one had no reason to despair, so to despair meant that one was rejecting the deity’s power and glory.

How unfair! There are moments when it seems that despair is the only proper response to the state of the world. As the bumper stickers says: “if you aren’t concerned, you haven’t been paying attention.” Its corollary may be: if you’re not depressed, you aren’t being realistic.

The trick, of course, is to go on living as if what one does will make a difference, as if those random acts of kindness, that honesty and courage will actually help. If it takes medication to reach the emotional plateau where that is possible, so be it.

1 comment:

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