The Case for Calling Depression a Brain Disease


I recently read a commentary piece written by Dr. Frank Bures and decided to share some of his thoughts here. He believes that depression is a brain disease and discusses why it should be classified as one, instead of being called a mental illness.

His thoughts about depression are worthy of consideration and will hopefully fuel further discussion about our current perceptions of depression and how these perceptions affect those with the diagnosis.

Not a Mental Illness

"Depression is a brain disease and really should not be classified as or called a mental illness,” writes Bures. "It’s far beyond time that we revise our description of this common scourge and shed the centuries of stigma, shame and true social disgrace it has borne erroneously for ages."

"The terminology of mental illness carries the implicit feeling instilled by others that it is something the sufferer - and a truly depressed person suffers great psychic pain - can control.”

"Wrong, wrong, wrong."

What Bures wants to do is make diagnoses such as depression, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder part of the realm of physical illnesses. This can be accomplished by calling them what they are - brain diseases - instead of labeling them as mental illnesses.

Doing this could de-stigmatize these DSM-5 diagnoses, relieve the shame people experience for having uncontrollable emotions or impulses because of them, and people might be more likely to seek help.

"We others have to quit thinking and saying they can 'just pull out of it,'” continues Bures. "You can’t just pull out of a cancer, diabetes or hepatitis ... We encourage them to get medical help, not just 'pull out of it,' before it hurts or even kills them. That is exactly how we could lessen the chance of depression killing people."

Rehabilitating Our Thinking

Talking about depression as a brain disease transforms the idea that a depressed person willfully takes his or her own life into the realization that a depressed person may be desperate for relief from the sheer misery of trying to live with the illness.

According to Bures, we need to understand that people die from depression, not from suicide.

"All of us who have lost loved ones this way struggle with the innate question of what we could have done differently to have stopped that terminal event," writes Bures. "... Those left behind bear not fault or responsibility."

"We must shun the idea and bigotry of mental illness and begin to understand all mental illnesses are brain tissue diseases, the same as any other malady of any other tissue ... Only then can we help more depressed patients prevent an irrevocably terminal event, commonly called suicide.”

A Timely Debate

There is a belief ingrained in many sufferers of major depressive disorder, many non-sufferers, and in some treatment providers that if people with depression tried hard enough they could pull themselves out of their black hole. The added pain and pressure this belief causes is immense and why Bures' commentary caught my attention.

Bures is a retired dermatologist, and his interest in this subject is personal. He reveals in the article that his mother was depressed and ended her own life. His thoughts about depression and suicide are timely and thoughtful, and I hope they spark some healthy debate.

Source: Winona Daily News


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