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Postcards from Scotland

Embracing the blues

What differentiates how one feels in response to normal negative life events, such as the death of a family member, and clinical depression? A recent article in The Utne Reader explores this question. The article says that normal negative emotions, which were once thought to serve a purpose and to help people do things such as build relationships and correct mistakes, are now being pathologised and are viewed as abnormal and unwanted.

Behavioural researchers, Alan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield, say that according to the psychiatrist?s manual for diagnosing mental illnesses (DSM-IV) the difference between normal suffering and clinical depression is not clear.  Having tracked the development of this diagnostic checklist they say that DSM-IV, unintentionally, pathologises every day sadness. They point out that clinical depression and sadness are not the same, and often there is a reason for why people are feeling down in the dumps.  For example, losing one?s appetite after the death of a spouse is normal and not pathological.

The article points out that negative emotion arise from various events such as setbacks, challenges, adversity and death.  The sadness that ensues from these situations plays a function for the individual and can stimulate further action, a change of direction, or a shift in values.  Avoiding these negative emotions may, paradoxically, cause more suffering down the line.  When people try to hide these inevitable weaknesses they suffer from shame and embarrassment.  Also, avoiding or suppressing unwanted feelings may make those unwanted feelings come back stronger (see paradoxical effects in Carol's blog).

What was once considered normal is now being treated as pathological and this article talks about the need to embrace the blues and accept that sadness and misery come in reaction to life events and that these are not pathological, but normal. To read the article click here

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