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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.

The 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.

In 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 slavery.


Illusion and reality

While 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 acknowledged.

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.

Feelings, 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.

To 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.

The 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?

The 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!

Antidepressants 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.

Most 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 problems.

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.

So 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 injunction.


A triumph of marketing: billions in profits

No 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.

In 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.

The 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.

Real 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
Of man


This 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

If 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.

Consider 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.

Here's 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.

By 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?

The 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.

The 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


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