Just read the attached PsyPost article questioning whether Seasonal Affective Disorder actually exists. Once again, it made me wonder whether the whole notion of a ‘mental illness’ as a distinct, categorisable, phenomenolgical entity has any real value. I am not convinced that SAD is any less valid as a definition of a phenomenon than ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety disorder’. Equally I doubt how useful it is to name any of these experiences as though they exist independently of each individual’s unique process of thinking, feeling and behaving.
NLP has long approached this topic by focusing not on the ‘phenomenon’ itself but on the process which sustains, and in some cases, arguably, triggers the experience. We ask the question,’Can you put it in a bucket?’ If you can’t, then it doesn’t exist, at least, not as something you’ve ‘got’. It is simply a process you are running; something you are doing.
Pause to allow for howls of protest, derision (and panic) from the depressed/anxious and pharmaceutical communities.
This does NOT mean you are not suffering, but simply that there is a structure to the process of being depressed and that this is a useful way to think about your experience. Somehow, something you are doing is depressing you. It is NOT your fault. But the thing is, once you work out ‘how you are doing this’ then it gives you scope to change how you are doing what you are doing and therefore to begin to feel better by doing something different. It potentially gives you the hope that you could take control.
Of course patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving are not the only causes of the set of feelings and experiences we choose to define as depression. The obvious major exception is perinatal/post natal depression. Hormonal changes arising during and after pregnancy can cause significant mood changes. But the principle still holds. There ARE different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving in response to these hormonal changes. Medication in these instances may well have a positive role to play. Ultimately though, what we focus on and the meanings we attribute to our own unique and ongoing experience of being ‘us’ can make us feel better or keep us in a downward negative spiral of fear and/or despair.
To pick out SAD as somehow unique from other mental illnesses and to say that it does not exist misses the point. The whole idea of ‘mental illness’ may not be useful to any of us and it is certainly used to excess currently.
As for the PsyPost claim, ‘here’s the science’, I think it is drivel. Statistical data based on relatively subjective and biased observations of individual behaviours plus self-reports of ongoing internalised experience from people who are feeling screwed up cannot be described as ‘science’, not in the way that facts about gravity or electro-magnetism can.
The reality is, you can go to a GP in the UK and get a prescription for Sertraline tomorrow, but it will take you weeks and probably months to get a talking therapy that makes any attempt to challenge the way you think, feel or behave in a way that is actually useful and effective. In the meantime, the negative patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving just become more habitualised and now you may have acquired drug habit too.
Please DO seek support from your GP and/or any appropriately qualified therapist and if you think you are at risk of self-harm go to an A&E department now. And by all means swallow the pills. But I would humbly suggest you take the decision to be somewhat more cautious about swallowing the whole concept of mental illness.
As for SAD. Well if you look out of your window at 7 am on 2 January in the Northern hemisphere it will be dark and probably raining or snowing. And if you have just spent two weeks stuffing your face and not leaving the sofa whilst bombarding your brain with electrically positive (but physically negative) ionised particles from tv screens, phones and tablets, and then if you think about the backlog that has inevitably built up at work, of course you are likely to generate some pretty bad feelings. And if you then tell yourself, and better still, get a doctor to confirm that there is something wrong with you, you are probably not going to feel good for quite some time!
Just remember, 150 years ago, none of these things ‘existed’. We need to be a lot more careful about what beliefs we buy into. Of course people need help from time to time and we should all look out for each other. But the real antidote to the cult of mental illness is a relentless, authentic focus on how to generate mental well-being. If we focus on how we want to think, feel and behave we at least begin to own the process of change and start to create greater resilience and hopefully more joy in our lives.