17 August 2007

Our Love Affair With Depression

by Kate Melville

A psychiatrist, writing in the British Medical Journal, has lashed out at what he claims is the medicalization of normal human distress. Professor Gordon Parker, a psychiatrist from Australia, says the current threshold for what is considered to be "clinical depression" is too low. He fears it could lead to a diagnosis of depression becoming less credible.

It is, he says, normal to be depressed and points to his own cohort study which followed 242 teachers. Fifteen years into the study, 79 percent of respondents had already met the symptom and duration criteria for major and minor depression.

He blames the over-diagnosis of clinical depression on a change in its categorization. This saw the condition split into "major" and "minor" disorders. He says the simplicity and gravitas of "major depression" gave it cachet with clinicians while its descriptive profile set a low threshold.

Criterion A required a person to be in a "dysphoric mood" for two weeks which included feeling "down in the dumps". Criterion B involved some level of appetite change, sleep disturbance, drop in libido and fatigue. This model was then extended to include what he describes as a seeming subliminal condition "sub-syndromal depression." He argues this categorization means we have been reduced to the absurd. He says we risk medicalizing normal human distress and viewing any expression of depression as necessary of treatment. "Depression will remain a non-specific 'catch all' diagnosis until common sense prevails," he concluded.

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Source: British Medical Journal