Thursday 15 January 2009

Normal Sadness

The dear old Daily Mail has dug out this story, which it has already run in various guises over the years (the paper also has a firm belief that stress and overwork are good for you ). This piece unfortunately conflates normal sadness and actual depression - but then, so does medical pratice, by medicating for the former. The source of the Mail piece is this influential book, originally published in 2007. It seems fundamentally sound in its argument that depression is generally overprescribed and overmedicated, and that normal sadness is probably good for us, however painful or tedious at the time. There is certainly ample evidence that the fight against sadness, and the attempt to evade actual clinical depression, can be a powerful spur to creativity and action. To the names of natural depressives cited in the piece - Churchill, Lincoln, Beethoven, Newton - could be added Samuel Johnson. One of the most admirable and touching aspects of his great life was his neverending struggle with his natural melancholy and the lethargy that went with it. His hard-won daily victory was a true triumph.
None of this, of course, is to argue against medicating the real thing - serious, disabling clinical depression. No one who has experienced this - or seen it in action - would easily mistake it for 'normal sadness'.


  1. The best remedy - or at least palliative - for normal sadness, I find, is brisk walking, preferably somewhere with plenty of trees and water.

  2. But of course I'm in the pay of Big Brisk Walking - see this...

  3. Avast there Nige, commenting on ones own blog may be the thin end of the wedge and as we know that particular spatial position is the thin en...oh, repeating oneself is said to be the first step.
    There may be a relationship between the pointy end and the step, and, walking rhymes with Dawkins, and today an altogether unsavoury connection.
    Managed to buy the John Phillips CD today, all good stuff.

    I had a good friend who suffered from clinical depression and it ain't funny, there seems to be no logical reason for its emergence and in her case medication was a backward step, eventually she managed to contain it to reasonable limits after plunging headlong into a time consuming business venture. So busy she couldn't afford to be ill ?
    My own cure for the blues is being in the fortunate position of having a wife who's smile lightens the darkness.
    She also banishes me to the naughty corner.
    PS, you can walk on water ?

  4. Malty, your wife sounds fabulous. I wonder, though, how often you've terrified her with your climbing exploits. But maybe that's part of the romance!

    I went to a conference on critical thinking earlier this week and heard *such* a brilliant speaker...a Brit who transplanted here to the U.S. twenty odd years ago, named Stephen Brookfield. He was talking about how critical thinking requires one to constantly question assumptions, especially one's own. He acknowledged that the biggest assumption he had to question in his life was why he felt it was unmanly to acknowledge he suffered from clinical depression. He finally did acknowledge it and got treatment before he killed himself.

    Now, that took guts to tell an audience, but this guy was brilliant. He has several books and a website,

    I think anyone who keeps a blog should learn to question their own assumptions as well as those of their commenters. I think this is especially true for Bryan and Gordon McCabe....