Depression: Integrating Science, Culture, and Humanities
The beginning of Part II mentions “multiple models of depression” (Lewis 49). Why do we need multiple models of depression? Are there different models for different ‘types’ of depression? Do the different models have different causes/explanations for depression? The text later answers that the different models serve as “diverse approaches” to depression (Lewis 49). This ‘answer’ still feels fairly ambiguous to me. I think this answer also exemplifies the complexity of depression and that there is not one simple way to look at depression; there are many factors that cause and effect depression, which also means there are multiple ways to go about treating depression. None of the different treatment models or even view of depression are necessarily wrong – there is (hopefully) a reason why each are developed with different sets of evidence supporting each model.
The story of Gilgamesh is “the oldest known depiction of intense sadness and depression” (Lewis 50). Gilgamesh’s “sadness and despair [are] tied to external events” (Lewis 51). These external events include the death of his close friend, Enkidu, and Gilgamesh’s distressing realization of his own mortality (prompted by Enkidu’s death), which then leads to a failed quest for a search of immortality (Lewis 50-51). Gilgamesh’s depression displays an element of existentialism as he becomes consumed with fear of his own death and hopes to prevent it by searching for a sort of elixir for this innate, inescapable human condition. This example of Gilgamesh also brings up the question of whether someone is ‘simply’ experiencing sadness, as to be expected after the death of a close friend, or if they are experiencing the more extreme depression. I think it is safe to say that Gilgamesh is experiencing depression since the death of Enkidu begins to take over his life as he (Gilgamesh) searches for immortality. Gilgamesh is unable to focus on anything other than escaping his own death (a morbid thought), so his condition could also be considered debilitating (a key characteristic of depression portrayed in texts previously ready for this course).
There are multiple examples in literature of people suffering from sadness/depression either as a result of the death of a close friend/love one OR their own suffering. Although the text explains these difficulties as matters of “fate, bad luck, or the gods,” I think some people who prescribe to the Determinist point of view, would say that all events are the result of God/gods (Lewis 51). If God/gods really do determine/cause all events on Earth, why does these god/gods allow for such prevalent suffering? Does that mean a god is the source or cause of depression?
Lewis then states “…if we really care about depression, we must change the social order to reduce human oppression” (emphasis added) (Lewis 52). Lewis gives “sexism, racism, [and] classism” as examples of “oppression” (Lewis 52). This argument, again, shows that depression is far more complex than a ‘simple’ chemical imbalance. This also relates to our discussion last week of women drinking wine in the morning, possibly as an attempt to help persist in the face of patriarchal systems. Could sexism be the reason more women than men are diagnosed with depression? Intersectionality would also need to be taken into consideration. Do Black women experience higher rates of depression? It would make sense, seeing as they face multiple forms of discrimination on a daily basis.
Lewis then moves on from examples of depression in the Ancient World to examples in Classical Greece. Lewis provides Sophocles’ play Ajax as a prime example of depression, stating Ajax is “the most well-known depressive in Greek tragedy” (Lewis 52). Ajax felt “…he was denied rewards that he thought he deserved….” (emphasis added) (Lewis 53). This shows the popular theme/condition in Greek literature of hubris. Could an inflated ego or misplaced sense of entitlement be a source of depression? Who is to fault for an inflated ego or misplaced sense of entitlement? It is understandable that someone would get disappointed (possibly extremely, depending on the circumstances) when expectations are not met. The disappointment would be more extreme if the expectations were held for a long period of time. I think this is why so many college freshmen experience depression; they are primed from an early age to go to college and then they get there and it is either not what they expected it to be and/or far more challenging. There are multiple new variables when someone goes to college. They are responsible for their own daily well-being, they are likely in a new environment – whether it be a new city or state, and the classes they are taking are most likely the most challenging they have ever encountered. Add up all these (negative/challenging) variables, and you essentially have a recipe for depression, or at least despair. There is also a sense of control that I think is important to consider in cases like these. I think all humans like to think they have some sense of control over their lives, but as we have learned, all humans are susceptible to depression as the disease does not discriminate. It can be extremely disheartening to learn/feel that you have no control over your own life (like if you were to suddenly experience major depression). If something like depression can suddenly enter and take over your life, why pursue planning and working towards a rewarding life?
In the Middle Ages, there are multiple examples of Christian authors who relayed depression as a punishment from God or a sign of the presence of demons (Lewis 55-56). This easily shows a source of stigma, particularly in “Christian nations,” like the United States, which was founded by Puritans. However, Marsilio Ficino found a “positive value of depression” in that it allowed for higher-level thinking and creativity (Lewis 58). Ficino asserted that melancholia was good because it allowed for higher-level thinking, but too much melancholia (depression) was bad because although an individual with this condition may be able to experience higher-level thinking, the depression they experience overshadows it to a point of debilitation (Lewis 57-58). Does this mean melancholy is necessary? Where would the human race be today without melancholy? What inventions/major works in human history can be traced back as a direct result of some state of melancholy?