Moody Minds Distempered: Essays on Melancholy and Depression

By Jennifer Radden | Go to book overview

12
Review of Against Depression
by Peter Kramer

The broad framework of Peter Kramer’s book, Against Depression, is familiar. In response to repeated questions appearing to romanticize the pathology of great artists (“what works of genius might have been lost if Van Gogh had been dosed with Prozac?”), Kramer sets out to show depression for what, he is sure, it is—nothing more than a disease, a scourge, and a medical and public health problem of unmatched proportions.

To this end, in a long, rather discursive book, he develops his case. Depression is a disease; he summarizes the range of intriguing biological findings from the 1990s that support such a claim, outlining a model of brain function wherein resilience, the ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable slings and arrows, is apparently compromised in some people. He takes on the long-held cultural tropes that link depressive states, and the related states earlier known as melancholia, with artistic and intellectual achievement, creativity, and a more profound understanding and wisdom than is vouchsafed to more sanguine folk. He sketches a future time at which depression will be recognized to be no more attractive, “charming,” or profound than are tuberculosis or heart disease today. And finally, he hints at a utopian era when, due to genetic and perhaps also social engineering, depression has gone the way of the Black Death or, in the West, leprosy.

In many respects, this is an admirable and welcome book. Kramer’s clearly written, even-handed discussion of the causes of depression, for example, provides a nuanced and layered counter to the oversimplified explanatory stories still sometimes issuing from the respective nature and nurture camps. As Kramer explains recent brain science, it will be biological fragility (the result both of genetic tendencies and of damage and deficit), together with some trigger from experience

Review of Against Depression by Peter Kramer (Viking 2005), published June 15, 2005, on Metapsychology
(www.mentalhelp.net/books/). Reproduced with permission from Metapsychology.

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