Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease

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Simon and Schuster, Feb 2, 2010 - Psychology - 448 pages
Am I depressed or just unhappy? In the last two decades, antidepressants have become staples of our medicine cabinets—doctors now write 120 million prescriptions annually, at a cost of more than 10 billion dollars. At the same time, depression rates have skyrocketed; twenty percent of Americans are now expected to suffer from it during their lives. Doctors, and drug companies, claim that this convergence is a public health triumph: the recognition and treatment of an under-diagnosed illness. Gary Greenberg, a practicing therapist and longtime depressive, raises a more disturbing possibility: that the disease has been manufactured to suit (and sell) the cure.

Greenberg draws on sources ranging from the Bible to current medical journals to show how the idea that unhappiness is an illness has been packaged and sold by brilliant scientists and shrewd marketing experts—and why it has been so successful. Part memoir, part intellectual history, part exposť—including a vivid chronicle of his participation in a clinical antidepressant trial—Manufacturing Depression is an incisive look at an epidemic that has changed the way we have come to think of ourselves.

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MANUFACTURING DEPRESSION: The Secret History of a Modern Disease

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Mother Jones contributing editor and self-described "old-fashioned psychotherapist" Greenberg (The Noble Lie: When Scientists Give the Right Answers for the Wrong Reasons, 2008, etc.) ponders ... Read full review

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I will share a couple of secrets with you — my personal politics tend towards the left, and I have an abiding belief that the world would be a better place if the excesses of capitalism were constrained. Oh, and I also have a thing called major depression. Those characteristics are, I think, traits that I share with Gary Greenberg, author of Manufacturing Depression: the Secret History of a Modern Disease.
If you ever wondered why we are in the midst of what seems an epidemic of depression then Manufacturing Depression should be on your reading list — not that you will necessarily agree with everything Greenberg has to say. If you are like me, you will probably find yourself moving between furious agreement, ponderous wondering, and downright disagreement. All of which makes the book worth reading.
Greenberg is a practising psychotherapist who has also had the more than occasional bout of major depression. On the surface his argument is simple: the modern idea of depression as an illness is an invention of the depression industry. Pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists, with the help of a public looking for answers to the intransigent challenges of modern life, have combined to make a bundle of symptoms that are all about feeling bad into an illness tailored made for the antidepressants, cognitive behavioural therapy and a growing number of other 'cures' being marketed by the depression industry.
The evidence he amasses is impressive, outlining depression's history — and what it means for us today — in detail. He explores the battles within the psychiatric profession between the Freudians and others who see depression as something stemming from the inner workings of the mind, and the brain chemical proponents who over the years have come up with various 'magic bullet' drugs that effect how the brain works. Greenberg argues that the drug companies and psychiatrists have invented an illness called 'depression' that matches the treatments that they have to hand, rather than discovering the mechanics of an underlying illness and inventing the appropriate treatment.
To support his argument he draws on everything from the bible to the latest research on the science of depression, and he does it in a way that is, most of the time, entertaining and easy to read. Invariably he wears his heart on his sleeve, with the recurrent theme that much of what we call the illness of depression being more a collective response to the inequities and failures of modern society.
If you are looking for easy answers to hard questions, then you won't find them in this book. Greenberg puts it clearly at the outset: there are no simple answers to the complexities of depression. His goal is not to convince you that he is right, but to sow seeds of doubt and questions in your mind, to encourage informed skepticism about the depression industry. His is a resistance project, where he rallies you against blind acceptance of the big pharmaceuticals and depression experts. To that end he is successful. I can't imagine any reader putting down this book without having an increased sense of concern over what is passing as objective science in the realm of depression.
The down-side of the book is also one of its strengths. Greenberg is passionate about his subject, but with an almost existential angst sitting behind him. I don't mind the lack of easy answers — in fact it is an aspect of the book I admire. But Greenberg digs too deeply, focuses too long, on his personal anguish over a lack of answers, the lack of a clear way forward. The book is impassioned, but towards the end the passion becomes too repetitive as the author repeats his central themes of how depression is a complex response to the challenges of life. He is repetitive about the folly of reducing depression to an illness that can be fixed by a magic-bullet pill, and how we short-change ourselves by failing to understand the deeper forces at work.
But it is easy to forgive an overly impassioned argument if the evidence and



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About the author (2010)

Gary Greenberg is a practicing psychotherapist in Connecticut and author of The Noble Lie. He has written about the intersection of science, politics, and ethics for many publications, including Harper's, the New Yorker, Wired, Discover, Rolling Stone, and Mother Jones, where he's a contributing writer.

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