In a culture obsessed with youth, financial success, and achieving happiness, is it possible to live an authentic, meaningful life? Nassir Ghaemi, director of the Mood Disorder Program at Tufts Medical Center, reflects on our society's current quest for happiness and rejection of any emotion resembling sadness. On Depression asks readers to consider the benefits of despair and the foibles of an unexamined life.
Too often depression as disease is mistreated or not treated at all. Ghaemi warns against the "pretenders" who confuse our understanding of depression—both those who deny disease and those who use psychiatric diagnosis "pragmatically" or unscientifically. But experiencing sadness, even depression, can also have benefits. Ghaemi asserts that we can create a "narrative of ourselves such that we know and accept who we are," leading to a deeper, lasting level of contentment and a more satisfying personal and public life.
Depression is complex, and we need guides to help us understand it, guides who comprehend it existentially as part of normal human experience and clinically as sometimes needing the right kind of treatment, including medications. Ghaemi discusses these guides in detail, thinkers like Viktor Frankl, Rollo May, Karl Jaspers, and Leston Havens, among others.
On Depression combines examples from philosophy and the history of medicine with psychiatric principles informed by the author's clinical experience with people who struggle with mental illness. He has seen great achievements arise from great suffering and feels that understanding depression can provide important insights into happiness.
"After the narrow confines of most psychiatric writing, it is refreshing to read an author who can quote knowingly from both Seymour Kety and William James and who can competently discuss topics as diverse as the mind-body problem and the relevance for psychiatry of Epicurus and Sufism. The book is a reminder of the rich banquet of conceptual and philosophical issues that are of relevance to our field but rarely make it into the standard literature."—Psychological Medicine, reviewing The Concepts of Psychiatry: A Pluralistic Approach to the Mind and Mental Illness
"Nassir Ghaemi's quest to make sense of the split between science and the art of psychiatry, pursued brilliantly in his previous writings, gallops ahead in this book, which ransacks the near empty cellars of post-modernism and reinstates common sense and tradition in a search for meaning in mental health and its disorders in modern life."—Michael Trimble, M.D., Institute of Neurology, London
"Ghaemi's distinction between 'depression disease' and 'depression nondisease' is pioneering and will open the eyes of a number of disease-designers who are currently struggling so mightily to classify the illnesses of psychiatry. But Ghaemi, a distinguished psychiatrist of vast clinical experience, will also open many patients' eyes: Does my kind of depression need medication? If it isn't depression I have, what's going on with me? Even more penetrating: My happiness is abnormal? These are not trivial questions, and Ghaemi's mastery of literature as well as clinical learning makes the lessons go down mighty easily."—Edward Shorter, Ph.D., FRSC, University of Toronto
"Ghaemi's great aptitude is for the provision of context. If the psychiatric encounter sometimes seems routine—paused at decisions about prescribing—still and always, so Ghaemi reminds us, it is grounded in the humane insights of generations of thinkers dedicated to the well-being of those who suffer. Ghaemi brings wisdom to bear on the series of challenges inherent in the treatment and understanding of depression."—Peter D. Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac and Against Depression
"By any measure, this is an important book that goes where thinking about mental illness has never gone. Certainly it will play a role in proving that depression is almost a necessity to actually live and make sense of life. Nassir Ghaemi gives tremendous meaning to my own suffering."—Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania
"Nassir Ghaemi blends the wisdom of a seasoned clinician, the hard data of rigorous, original research, and the long view of a scholar steeped in humanities. He is an indispensable voice and with this book—among many others—he has found his place among the eminent ranks of modern writers on depression."—Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln's Melancholy
Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., M.P.H., is a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and the director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. He is author of the bestseller A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness, as well as The Rise and Fall of the Biopsychosocial Model: Reconciling Art and Science in Psychiatry and The Concepts of Psychiatry: A Pluralistic Approach to the Mind and Mental Illness, both published by Johns Hopkins.