Depression and the modern world

I was thinking about why we live in a world where people are constantly making decisions that end up affecting them in a negative way. For example, what drives a person to make a voting decision that will bring a person into office who ultimately undermines the interest of the voter who put them there? I had a psychoanalytic supervisor who once told me that things are over determined. The meaning of that statement being, that there is more than one explanation for why we do and think the way we do. I want to talk about one of the possible reasons for the question I have stated.

When the American Psychiatric Association brought out the third version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in the early 1950s, depression was relegated to a mood disorder with a prescribed array of symptoms in which character traits and personality styles were placed on the side lines. This had the effect of turning depression into a two dimensional medical problem that had nothing to do with the mind of the person and only with the biology of the brain. The problem with this approach was that depression became a problem for medication management and any thought or discussion about character no longer mattered.

In actual fact, depression is a multidimensional condition of both the brain and the mind. There are times when medication is appropriate for the treatment of depression and there will be times when medication does not seem to do anything. I don’t want to get bogged down in talking about treatment approaches here, but suffice it to say that therapy directed at depressive character is equally as important as any pharmacological approach.

Now, back to the question above. In depressive styles of character we can see two main types of depressive personalities. One is the introjective type of depression. These people tend to see themselves as bad and undeserving on love and acceptance. They will tend to either avoid negative feelings by denying that there are any negative feelings, or they will unconsciously bring on the punishment they think they deserve by a covert action of putting themselves in positions of vulnerability or making choices that cause them to be “punished”. They can make life choices that reflect the fact that they feel unworthy and voting against their self interests is what the feel they deserve.

The second kind of depressive personality is the anaclitic depression. These people often feel empty and as if there is nothing good in the world and there can be no good outcomes no matter what you do. They would likely either not try to do anything to affect change because nothing good can happen anyway, or they might choose something that is against their own self interests because they think in a kind of nihilistic way. In other words, the only outcome is negative. There would be no point in trying to do something good, because nothing positive or good can happen.

There are a lot of reasons for groups making choices and decisions that seem to contradict the interests of the group and, thinking about depression in light of our current political world, helps me take a deeper look at the irrational choices people seem to make at times. It seems to me that this could explain some of what we see and how working through the surface emotional affect we can see a deeper meaning and expression of pain that gives us an opportunity to work toward unity and healing and away from divide and victimization through the trauma of self destruction.


— Stephen M Taylor, M. D.

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