Cognitive Pearl #009 Kislev 15, 5775 December 7, 14

The sociologist, David Karp, in his book, Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness (1997), describes a state of inchoateness in the early stages of depression. At this stage there are no words for the inner experience of unease and functional and social frustrations. All he can speak of are vague, foggy sensations that something is not right. At the moment however when the sufferer finds the right words for his experience he feels less confused, less vague about what is happening. For the first time in who knows how long, he has a clear cut sense of self, a sense of self albeit that is rooted in illness, but one that he can use to honorably describe himself to himself and to others in words accepted by others: as suffering from illness.

The medical model of depression and other ‘mental illnesses’ is quite widespread in Western culture (and this is not the place to discuss the implications of this model). What is most relevant is that from time immemorial, there is a need for identity and social connection which honors, in some way, that personal, phenomenal identity. With that connection we can climb out of the depths of our misery.

For a variety of good reasons, most of those who suffer from depression, seek the aid of a mental health professional (and this is not the place to go into the history and ideologies of the therapy industry). The most important offer we make to them is the willingness to share in their identity. By doing so, they feel in the company of someone who cares.