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  • The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression...

    The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary Age
    Authored by Alain Ehrenberg, a French sociologist
    Published in 2010
    Cheapest price in the US: $20.97 at Borders.com
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    The book review, excerpted below, is by Gil Eyal, a sociology professor at Columbia University.

    The argument of this book is conveyed with a quote, a succinct aphorism that appears towards its conclusion: “Depression, then, is melancholia plus equality, the perfect disorder of the democratic human being. It is the inexorable counterpart of the human being who is her/his own sovereign” (p. 219, italicized in the original). To put it less aphoristically, if depression is today the most diagnosed mental disorder the world over, this is not because it was medicalized and over-diagnosed, as a hasty sociology of professions would lead one to suggest, but because the diagnosis—however imprecise—responds to a real crisis of the individual in post-disciplinary society.

    At some point around the mid-twentieth century, the society of discipline and norms that fixed the individual in their place was destabilized and gave way to a society organized around the sovereign individual, free to set their own norm of self-development, responsible for their destiny and who therefore find themselves in a void, not knowing how to act, nor even why is it preferable to act. The melancholia once reserved for the privilege of a few great geniuses, has now become a depression available to anybody. To the neo-liberal creed of “everything is permitted,” the depressed individual replies “but nothing is possible.” Sound familiar? If it does, it is because it recapitulates all the essential elements in Durkheim’s theory of anomie: the breakdown of a stable moral order, the figure of the entrepreneur representing a consciousness whose center of gravity is outside itself and future-oriented, the loss of a “sense of place,” even the threat of suicide. Durkheim and anomie still seem to cast a long shadow over French sociology (Bourdieu himself resorted to the argument of anomie in Homo Academicus), and this is problematic. Since Ehrenberg’s meta-argument is identical in all respects to Durkheim’s, it is impossible to tell whether Durkheim was prematurely right, or Ehrenberg is anachronistically wrong.

    American sociologists should read this book and decide for themselves, because despite this flaw there is much in it that is a valuable corrective to established wisdom in the sociology of mental illness. When he is not engaging in epochal pronouncements, Ehrenberg develops an innovative sociology of psychiatric expertise and demonstrates, quite convincingly, that depression today is simply not the same thing as in the past. Depression used to be pathological sadness, mental pain or a “mood disorder,” but it has now become a disturbance of activity, a slowing down of body and mind, asthenia and inhibition (p. 166). Depression, therefore, is no longer distinguished from anxiety but the two are intertwined and form a whole domain of similar disorders. This transformation of the object of psychiatric expertise results no doubt from the new class of antidepressant medications that emerged in the 1980s. As Ehrenberg puts it: “Antidepressants treat dysfunctions of movement in their mental aspects” (p. 168). They are dis-inhibitors rather than mood lifters or (mental) pain killers. They bring together disorders within the field of intervention that in the past would have been carefully distinguished in terms of etiology, or whether sadness or anxiety were present...

    For the full review, see Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression... started by Daniel View original post
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    1. Daniel's Avatar
      Daniel -
      Psychology of Well-Being | Full text | The happiness of people with a mental disorder in modern society

      ...It is possible that modern society also sets higher demands on mental health, because of its greater demands on self-direction.