It’s becoming very common for people to think of depression as a chemical imbalance in the brain, and this worries me. It worries me because often the cause of the depression is to be found somewhere else. It also worries me because medicating can often inhibit the psychological processes required for healing.
The chemical imbalance perspective has a lot of merit but it is overly narrow. It wants to see everything in terms of chemicals because that can be engaged with in an entirely scientific manner. But this is precisely what the founding psychoanalytic school warned against.
In Frankel’s third Vienna school a strong distinction is made between neurosis and the psychological orientation of an individual. That is to say, an individual may develop a neurosis, which may manifest into a chemical imbalance, which can then only be hygienically cured by addressing elements in their existential attitude that are causing them to become unhealthy; for example, they may be a perfectly rational nihilist, which causes them to get depressed.
Jung stresses that the psyche contains forces that cannot be effectively understood as the products of chemicals, and that a more philosophical understanding of them is crucial to good therapy. Someone with a neurotic relationship with their mother cannot be cured with drugs, for example.
In the work of all the major schools of psychoanalysis, depression is your psyche’s way of telling you that something is wrong on a ‘spiritual’ level. That problem will remain even if you medicate away your depression. Medication can actually be dangerous because it inhibits communication between unconscious and conscious psychic forces. Medication, in eradicating feelings, can actually make it harder for us engage with our problems.
While this approach is not strictly scientific it is backed up by mountains of case data and tens of thousands of cured patients.
Often we turn to medication because we want to remain functional. This is often beneficial, and those self-harming or similar should certainly consider drugs. But in other cases this reaction is short-sighted. If, instead of medication, an individual allows for a period of dysfunction in their life in which they confront their depression head on they will emerge a much more functional person than the crippled, medicated one they were before. And they will know themselves better to boot.
Some mental illnesses cannot be cured with counselling. Bi-polar disorder, autism and schizophrenia come to mind. But it doesn’t take an idiot to see that these diseases are quite different to feelings of insecurity, anxiety and aimlessness that besiege everyone throughout life, especially at adolescence. These ‘existential crises’ don’t need drugs, instead, they need reflection. So if you’re going through such a period, deal with your shit, don’t medicate it away.
The author blogs at markfabian.blogspot.com