Disease? It's a red herring
In their last book, Aine Tubridy and Michael Corry
called for a re-examination of the scientific assumptions associated
with depression, and explained how the hazardous treatment of
depression with drugs, by doctors worldwide, is only a band-aid, not a
cure. Here, in the first chapter of the book, they examine the roots of
this false thinking and the dangers it poses
The saying ‘red herring' is
used to describe something that provides a false or misleading clue.
It's a hunting phrase from the 1800s which refers to the actions of
hunt saboteurs who would drag a smoked herring, which is red in colour
and strong-smelling, along the hunt route and away from the foxes. This
confused the hounds, which were thrown off the scent of the fox to
follow, instead, the scent of the red herring.
moment depression is classified as a disease, the medical community,
and then the public, seem to lose all clarity and become as duped as
the hounds, and a wrong turn is taken. Once something is called a
disease, a cure is called for. In this way it becomes a defining
straitjacket in which the depressed individual has to function.
Diseases do not have meanings, therefore none are sought. Diseases
should not be happening. Diseases separate the ill from the well. This
classification defines the experience, limiting it to a form which
society relates to in prescribed ways. By placing it solely within the
realm of imbalanced chemistry we distance it from problems of living,
lack of resources, and our human responses, which are the primary
cause. We have been misled, and the time has come to find our way back
to a true understanding of depression.
this book we take a different view from this sick-brain model.
Depression is not a disease, but a legitimate emotional response to
life's difficulties and inseparable from individuality, race, colour,
gender, creed, upbringing, belief systems, environments, relationships,
socio-economic factors, life events, and coping skills. We feel that to
isolate a depressed human being from their thoughts, behaviours and
from the workings of their world is a tragedy beyond words, as it
reduces them and the rest of us to a bag of chemicals. There is no
place here for uniqueness, imagination, will, acceptance, compassion,
love, peace, creativity, personal freedom and the unfathomable depths
of the human spirit. The sick-brain model of depression is a hideous
and terrifying concept, as it turns us into cogs in a machine where, if
we find the going difficult and we need to disengage, our distress is
silenced by an emotional painkiller and we are encouraged to carry on
regardless. We believe this is nothing short of chemically-induced
Illusion and reality
there is universal acknowledgement of the experience of depression
itself, tragically there is a parting of the ways when it comes to the
causes and treatment of this serious and disabling emotion. The
greatest revolution in medicine came when the cause of many diseases,
and the reason for their spread, was discovered to be bacterial and
viral. Based on this new knowledge, more appropriate treatment
approaches were pursued, which until then would never have been thought
relevant. The biggest killers of all time — leprosy, tuberculosis,
syphilis, the plague, typhus, cholera, malaria — were all poorly
understood until the agents and the mechanism by which they spread were
In terms of science, this
medical paradigm shift was of the same monumental proportions as the
consciousness change which came about in the scientific world when the
flat earth view yielded to the round earth one. Another paradigm shift
is now urgently needed in the area of psychological medicine.
thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and interpretations need to be
recognised as the creators of the chemical state we know as depression,
as surely as thoughts of injustice stimulate the chemical state of
anger, the perception of threat elicits fear, and reminders of loss
invite sadness. The current, dominant model in psychiatry reverses
cause and effect, placing the problem within the person's brain matter,
or hardware. This makes it a disease of the brain, justifying the use
of medication and electric shock treatment, rather than locating the
problem in the sufferer's software programmes, their mind or
consciousness. This is equivalent to leaving the TV in for repair if
the programmes cease to be to your liking.
approach the mind like a broken machine pathologises sufferers, turning
them into damaged goods or victims of flawed chemistry and defective
genes. It marginalises personal consciousness, viewing the unfathomable
depths of human passion, individuality, creativity, curiosity, reason,
intuition, will, compassion, and spiritual insight as mere secretions
of the brain, akin to the way the kidney secretes urine.
theory of a genetic basis to depression has to be relegated to where it
belongs — a theory which has yet to be proven. There's a world of
difference between what is transmitted in the DNA and what are familial
traits. It cannot be asserted that trans-generational occupations such
as farming, dentistry, teaching, law, etc., are located on a gene with
no contribution whatsoever from the cultural tradition within those
families. Likewise, is there a gene location for a love of gardening,
music, or nature?
How do geneticists
explain the findings of the Health Research Board in 2003 that ‘the
rate of [psychiatric] admission for the unskilled group was eight times
that of the employers and managers group'? (Activities of the Irish
Psychiatric Services 2003.) Are the geneticists suggesting the
influence of a ‘weaker' genetic pool? Or could it be that lack of
resources and quality of life is the major factor in causing the
psychological distress of the unskilled group?
diagnosis of depression has reached epidemic proportions. Data from
2004 reveals that in Ireland (with a population of 3.9 million) between
one in five and one in seven adults were prescribed antidepressant
medication at a cost of over €100 million.
The Emperor has no clothes!
are, in essence, psychic energisers which have a mood-elevating and
sometimes a euphoric effect. So do street drugs such as amphetamine,
cocaine and heroin, all of whose effects are transient. The difference
is that they don't pretend to be either medicinal or curative. The
consequence of promoting emotional painkillers to be prescribed as if
they were correcting some causative fault, as insulin does in diabetes,
are far-reaching and serious for medicine and for real science.
insidious of all is the fact that that depression, if seen as a
disease, cannot be viewed as an indicator of an individual's difficulty
in dealing with the setbacks of life. Such difficulties require not
anaesthesia but corrective real-life measures, with or without the
support of psychotherapy. At least drug addicts and alcoholics are not
deluded that their use of substances is permanently sorting out their
The diminution of the central
and primary role of consciousness and emotion in mental distress is
fundamentally wrong. The pharmaceutical industry, in framing depression
as a disease, has set sufferers apart from their humanity and the
entire spectrum of what it is to be human. Its doctrinal assertions as
to the value of their product smacks of neo-fundamentalism. Having
achieved cult status, it is now immune to challenge such is its wealth,
power, and its stranglehold on the medical profession.
much has the status of the pharmaceutical industry come to resemble a
religion that it is almost impossible now to name the obvious without
uproar breaking out among its disciples. If the little boy in the fairy
tale, in his innocence, dared to name the obvious — ‘Look, the Emperor
has no clothes!' — in current times, he would be gagged by a court
A triumph of marketing: billions in profits
one disputes the role of chemistry in depression, in the same way that
no one disputes the role of adrenaline in anxiety. The sick-brain model
has singled out a deficiency of serotonin, one of the many action
hormones, as the cause of the depressed state. This is the same as
saying that two planes, as if acting on their own volition, were the
sole cause for the September 11 Twin Towers disaster.
depression, serotonin, among many other neurochemical transmitters, is
involved, but only in a secondary role. On this error in thinking has
been created an enormous red herring, a fantastic delusion. Let us not
be sidetracked from the truth of the matter. It is irrelevant whether
it is a serotonin deficiency or a serum marmalade deficiency which has
been identified as having a role, they will always remain secondary
findings and therefore not causal.
pharmaceutical industry has hijacked science, reversed cause and
effect, and idealises the neurochemical model of illness for profit
motives: a marketing triumph. It has made bad science its own. It
parades its ‘objective' findings from selectively chosen clinical
trials and blatantly withholds information such as dangerous side
effects which do not suit its marketing objectives. (The manipulation
of scientific information by the tobacco industry bears testament to
this.) And if that is not bad enough, it actively promulgates the
notion that anything which cannot be measured does not exist. This is a
position of enormous conceit — out the window goes consciousness and
its infinite interconnectedness.
science knows its limitations, seeing itself as a tool, using means of
gathering information according to the instruments used. True
scientists such as Albert Einstein showed awe and humility in the face
of the unknown. Science will always be a product of consciousness and
therefore cannot have dominance over it. Rather than consciousness
being seen within science, it is only logical that science has to be
seen within consciousness. Understanding of this nature is crucial, as
the pharmaceutical industry would have us believe that they know how it
all works with God-like status, and that its latest product is the
ultimate wonder drug.
In the words of the poet and psychiatrist Louis Regan:
The sea of mind is fast beyond degree
This science is only a looking glass to see
Paled reflections, glimmering out inside
industry feeds on the gullibility of some doctors and the extreme
vulnerability of sufferers who, in their eagerness to alleviate
symptoms, are prepared to ignore side effects, both long- and
short-term. It also vigorously encourages the use of psychoactive
medication in the young who, once started, will in all probability
continue to ‘use' in different forms until adulthood. In this way a
lifetime on medication begins with the mantra ‘keep taking the pills'.
Tampering with nature's wisdom
we take a look at what goes on inside the body it can be seen as the
body electric — the city that never sleeps. Its hundred-plus trillion
cells all intercommunicate and depend on each other according to a
brilliantly orchestrated electromagnetic master plan, certainly not one
of human design. Every bodily function such as oxygenation, food
absorption, detoxification, and the generation of nerve impulses all
happen at the cell wall by the movement of positive and negative
particles across it. Each cell depends on life-supporting supplies,
including oxygen, water, glucose and protein. Waste products such as
carbon dioxide and urine require disposal. Like a huge metropolis the
body continues growing, replicating, defending and repairing itself. It
does this whether we are in a coma, sleeping, dreaming or awake.
the ingenuity of the immune system. T-cells move through the body
scanning for and eliminating dangerous material. They contain the
knowledge of what is ‘me' and what is ‘not me', then act accordingly. I
am not awakened in the middle of the night by the chief T-cell seeking
an executive decision as to whether or not to destroy the alien. In the
same way everything from the regulation of my heart beat to the repair
of my cells in the event of damage is guided by an organising power
outside of my intellectual control. This wisdom, when balance prevails,
extends also to emotional healing.
the conundrum. Antidepressants work for some and without apparent
serious side effects. And so people will ask ‘what's so wrong with
taking a pill if it can make you feel better?' Here's why.
ingesting antidepressant medication you are interfering with your
body's own ability to create its own. The body's natural pharmacopoeia
goes out of production because the delicate interconnecting feedback
loops have been tampered with.
When you stop taking the
antidepressants, the withdrawal symptoms you experience reflect not
only the falling levels of the drug in your blood, which can be
short-term, but also the body's longer-term struggle to resume
production of its own chemicals. In many cases, after years of use, the
catch-up can never be achieved, so guaranteeing dependence on what
comes over the counter or, more frighteningly, what can be bought over
the internet. Is this not drug addiction?
side effects of antidepressant medication are legion, ranging from loss
of your sex life to loss of your life through suicide. If you have any
doubts read the small print. Every cell in your body is taking a hit,
because more than 95 per cent of the receptor sites for these drugs are
located outside the central nervous system. Factor in altered reaction
times, and you become a danger to others while driving a car. (Pilots
are instantly grounded while under the influence of these drugs.)
Falling victim to the red herring, you will be less likely to seek out
healing solutions and put in place quality of life changes.
sick-brain model of depression reflects a frightening and insidious new
phenomenon taking hold in our society. We are being blindfolded, and
drowned in a sea of pills. Those who try to arrest this development are
actively resisted. WB Yeats, in his poem ‘The Second Coming', spoke of
a similar spectre and the difficulties inherent in halting it.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
This article is the first chapter of Depression: an Emotion, not a Disease, published by Mercier Press at €14.99. Click HERE for preview