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Depression Are We Simply Medicalising Unhappiness?

Depression ……Are We Simply Medicalising Unhappiness?

It is estimated that 10% of New Zealanders will at some stage in their lives suffer an episode of depression. But Professor Roger Mulder from the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences is concerned that some of these people may be seeking and receiving formal mental health care for what may be a relatively short period of unhappiness.

“There appears to have been a significant increase in people diagnosed with depression over the past 40 years. One of the difficulties of our current approach is to say that you either have depression or you don’t. But there isn’t, in reality, such a clear boundary and what you end up with is a group of people with relatively mild, possibly transient symptoms. It is this group that is often given mental health treatments without evidence that they make much difference.”

Professor Mulder will be expanding on these and other controversial themes in a public lecture at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Otago University, on Wednesday March 31 at 7.30pm in the Rolleston Lecture Theatre. The title of the lecture, “An Epidemic of Depression or the Medicalisation of Unhappiness?”, is part of the current health lecture series.

Professor Mulder says that there are other methods of treatment such as exercise, talking to family and receiving practical support which may be just as effective for people with mild depression.

“Too often these people are seen as helpless victims who need professional clinical support rather than turning to their families and the community. We need to look more closely at what we can do to help mildly depressed people through practical support and socialisation, not doctors.”

He says we need more investigation into this area, particularly whether we are over-treating mild depression but under-treating more severe depression. However, he says there is clear evidence that medication is very effective for those who suffer from severe or chronic depression as distinct from the mildly depressed.

“The evidence suggests that if you have been unhappy for a long time, are psychotic, or the disorder is severe then antidepressants do have a positive therapeutic effect.”

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