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How to Dehumanize Depression

Sad woman

Given more information about the biology of a mental disorder, doctors and therapists react with less empathy for the patient, a new study finds.

The study found that in hypothetical situations, conventional mental health professionals expressed less empathy for patients with conditions explained via biological mechanisms rather than psychological ones.

The findings challenge the notion that biological explanations of mental illness boost compassion.  One of the researchers mentioned that over-emphasizing to people with a mental illness that there is something fundamentally wrong with their brain can be ‘dehumanizing’.

Well sure…if you OVER emphasize anything, it can be taken the wrong way.  In my practice, I find patients are DELIGHTED to find a biological cause for their symptoms, including physical ones such as fatigue or poor digestion.  They’ve been from doctor to doctor to be told “you’re healthy as a horse” while they’re sitting there in obvious mental and physical pain, and that they should see a shrink.

When I can explain to them, in an empathic/caring manner, that the CAUSE for their depression is rooted in their diet, their immune system, brain chemistry, or hormonal imbalance, they feel like they ARE NOT CRAZY anymore…there is an explanation.

Interestingly in the study, it was medical doctors who showed significantly less empathy overall than other types of mental health clinicians. The authors could not explain why, yet conceded that the vignettes they presented may have been oversimplified and failed to capture the complexity of the etiology of mental disorders.

The study does raise a troubling implication – the thought that the patient-physician relationship is compromised by these biological explanations.  This is yet another example of where the conventional medical approach to mental illness misses the boat on NOT looking at these disorders from a systems and/or functional medicine model.

Depression must be understood, assessed, and treated as a complex interplay between genetics, biology and the patient’s environment as key triggers in the development of psychiatric conditions.

To truly dehumanize patients with depression is to reduce them down to a diagnosis that essentially amounts to “antidepressant deficiency syndrome”, and doesn’t big pharma just love that….