Looking At A Non-disease Model of Depression


Depression is a major cause of worldwide disability, and people spend millions on medications for it each year. Yet, some treatment professionals, such as Dr. James Gordon, do not believe the disease model of depression is an appropriate one.

Dr. Gordon is founder and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He has also experienced debilitating symptoms of depression.

Why Not the Disease Model?

The disease model does not suit depression, according to Dr. Gordon, because there are no consistent, universal biological or physiological changes caused by depression, as there are with other illnesses such as diabetes or arthritis.

Another problem with the disease model is that it prompts doctors to prescribe medication, yet there is no reliable medication for depression relief. Antidepressants help only a percentage of depressed individuals to varying degrees and, like most pharmaceuticals, they can cause side effects.

Dr Gordon views depression as a signal there some type of imbalance that needs to be addressed. The imbalance might be physiological or psychological, or both.

  1. Physiological imbalances could involve diet, toxins, vitamin/mineral insufficiency, lack of exercise, or food sensitivities.
  2. A psychological imbalance might be owed to lack of social support, some type of loss, trauma, or lacking a sense of meaning.

Though antidepressants do help some people cope with symptoms of these imbalances, Gordon thinks medications should be used as a treatment of last resort.

Seeing the Possibilities

Though some of us come into the world with a genetic or temperamental predisposition to depression, this is not the same as destiny. Dr. Gordon challenges people who have this predisposition to manage their vulnerabilities by engaging their interests and strengths, and by developing habits that positively impact their biology.

For instance, research proves that exercise stimulates the development of new brain cells in the hippocampus and frontal cortex—areas of the brain affected by depression. Though it is difficult to move when feeling depressed, people can start by taking small measures such walking around the block.

By getting away from the disease model, Gordon hopes people may begin to believe that it is possible to get through depression, to learn from it, and come to a greater experience of wholeness. People can then face this heroic healing journey with a deserved sense of dignity.

Reminder: If you are working with doctors or mental health professionals, be wise and do not make changes in your treatment regimen until you talk to them first.

Source: Freedom From Depression
Photo credit: Barta IV (@flickr)


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