The Pathologizing of Everyday Life: When Did Sadness Become a Disease?

September/October 2013

One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea
By Dana Becker
Oxford University Press. 245 pp.
ISBN: 9780199742912
Purchase this book on Amazon 

How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown
By Edward Shorter
Oxford University Press. 256 pp.
ISBN: 9780199948086
Purchase this book on Amazon 

Here’s the bad news: you’re stressed out and depressed. The good news? According to two recent books, you’ve got a lot of company. But, given the ubiquity of stress and depression these days, what do those terms actually mean anymore, and what effects do they have on our lives and our society as a whole?

While Becker’s book focuses on stress and Shorter’s solely on depression, they tell a larger, and largely similar, story: how these concepts have eroded through the decades into catchall conditions so pervasive that they’ve become virtually meaningless as terms for diagnosis or treatment. More troubling, according to these authors, is that each of these “conditions” has become so prevalent that the distinction between normal and abnormal pressures or moods has become completely blurred. And once stress and depression are…

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