Exposing the Mythmakers


How Soft Sell Has Replaced Hard Science

March/April 2000


There was a time when therapists, and much of our larger culture, saw depression and other human troubles as complex conditions of mind and heart, influenced by many subtle inner and outer forces. But in the last decade, a vast intellectual and emotional sea change has taken place. We now inhabit a culture where many people hold the view that their emotional pain is "biochemical" and can be cured by simply taking a pill.

Emotional suffering, according to this new view, is a genetic glitch, successfully treatable by drugs. Depression is no longer thought to be shaped by such diverse forces as a sedentary, lonely or impoverished life;

the loss of love, health or community; "learned helplessness" or feelings of powerlessness arising from unsatisfying work or an abusive relationship. Its resolution no longer requires anyone to get meaningful support from others, to establish a collaborative relationship with a good psychotherapist, to draw on community resources, or for communities to address conditions that breed depression. No, depression is now publicly defined as a purely biological illness, treatable--thank heaven--by the miracle antidepressants.

Consider, for example, this interview, which ran on the CBS news program 60 Minutes in 1991, three years after Prozac began its meteoric rise to therapeutic dominance:

Lesley Stahl: [voice-over]... For 10 years, Maria Romero has been suffering from depression, a serious illness. Sometimes she spends weeks…

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