The Brooklyn Rail
By Kaitlin Bell
Gary Greenberg opens his new history of depression with a riveting tale of scientific ingenuity. A young, unknown marine biologist with an interest in mussels happens to discover the neurotransmitter serotonin and helps spur the antidepressant revolution. Lest we get too excited, though, Greenberg deflates our hopes just a few pages in. Great science stories involve chance discoveries that change our everyday lives, he says—but this is not the kind of story he is going to tell.
Instead, the story that dominates Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Disease is of scientific exuberance run amok, of coincidences and hasty conclusions, of a lust for money and for control over what Greenberg aptly describes as the landscape of mental suffering. Greenberg is outraged that “the depression doctors,” as he ominously terms them, have cornered the market on Americans’ internal anguish and have managed to convince millions of people that their unhappiness is actually a disease with a simple cause—a chemical imbalance—and a magic-bullet cure. It’s especially infuriating because this notion isn’t based in fact; it’s just a story we have allowed the medical establishment to tell us. There is no biochemical marker for depression, no good way to tell who is and who isn’t depressed. The tools doctors use to diagnose depression, as well as the other varieties of mental illness, are based on symptoms alone—whether someone is eating or sleeping more or less than usual, for example, or suffering from excessive guilt, or engaging in too much self-criticism. Most of what’s diagnosed as depression is, in other words, nothing more than the name our society gives to a particular kind of emotional and mental suffering considered worthy of fixing.
In one sense, Greenberg has reclaimed the narrative very effectively. He has produced a tightly woven history showing that the medical establishment, despite claims to the contrary, knows almost nothing about the causes of depression from a scientific, biochemical, or neurological perspective.
Read entire article: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2010/02/express/a-frustrating-mess