Living under Liberalism - the Politics of Depression in Western Democracies

By Philip, Brigid | Social Alternatives, First Quarter 2009 | Go to article overview

Living under Liberalism - the Politics of Depression in Western Democracies


Philip, Brigid, Social Alternatives


Living Under Liberalism - The Politics of Depression in Western Democracies. by Pam Stavropoulos, Boca Raton, Florida: Universal Publishers. 2008. ISBN 9781581189649.

In Living Under Liberalism - The Politics of Depression in Western Democracies, Pam Stavropoulos seeks to shed light on the political dimensions of depression in liberal democratic countries. The central premise of the book is that liberalism promotes a view of the healthy subject as one who is autonomous, independent and self-reliant, and in so doing, contributes to the depression crisis by denying the importance of social connectedness and interrelatedness to our mental health and wellbeing.

Part one explores what it means to 'live under liberalism' and how living under these conditions contributes to depression. Liberalism is described as an ideology or political philosophy that is characterised by universalism, equality, individualism, rationalism and progressivism. Using clinical vignettes drawn from her experience as a counsellor of people with depression, Stavropoulos argues that these core liberal values 'necessarily influence the psyches of we who live under liberalism' (p. 87). Moreover, she suggests that the dichotomies and contradictions inherent to liberalism foster internal splits within individuals 'which shape both the incidence and experience of depression' (p. 90). For instance, the discrepancy between the liberal ideal of equality and the contemporary reality of third world poverty is given as an example of one such contradiction that can contribute to depression amongst individuals living under liberalism. Stavropoulos writes, 'What some commentators refer to as "First World Guilt" can itself be generative of depression, either separately or in combination with other sources. To live in a world in which inequality flourishes - in stark contrast to the progressive ethos of the dominant ideology of western societies - can itself give rise to depression' (p. 88-90 - emphasis in original).

In the second half of the book, the discussion shifts focus to exploring how depression might best be 'healed'. Stavropoulos favours the idea of 'healing' as opposed to 'treatment', as she sees the latter as reinforcing a liberal-individualist reading of mental health focused on individual pathology. Chapter 5 considers the mainstream treatments of choice for depression - antidepressant medications and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - and argues that neither is adequate for addressing the underlying political conditions contributing to depression. Instead, meditation and memory exercises are advocated as essential components of the healing process. …

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