No, Doctor, I'm not depressed, I'm unhappy!

Ours must be the only society where "happiness" has become, not a right, but a "duty". If you're not happy, there is something "wrong" with you; you are "ill"; you are "depressed"; you are, as one doctor told me, in "a negative thought spiral".

Well, no, not necessarily! Unhappiness, under certain circumstances, has always been part of the human condition. Shakespeare described Man as a "poor, naked, forked creature"; the philosopher Hobbes described Life as "short nasty and brutish". One of reasons why the idea of Heaven was so powerful is, surely, that it promised happiness - but only after a time in this "vale of tears". Even the US Declaration of Independence only claims the right to the pursuit of happiness - not happiness itself.

I'm not saying that "clinical depression" doesn't exist. Of course it does. But there seems to be a subtle - or not so subtle! - shift - towards the expectation of happiness, the requirement to be happy, which is resulting in a tendency to "blame the victim". If you're not happy, there's something wrong with you!

The UK Council for Psychotherapy makes this point about the "happiness agenda", saying:-

"In effect, if we follow the happiness line, we will be saying to people 'If you are not positive, if you're not happy, if you're unemployed, if you have an illness - then this is your personal failing - there's something wrong with you'."


This is not a dialogue of despair. It is a plea to the MH "professionals" to stop implying that, if only we, the patients, changed our thinking, took the tablets, did a CBT course, took more exercise, then we would forget we were poor, lonely, worried, unemployed, in pain etc etc etc.

If I've lost my job, if my marriage has broken up, if my child is sick - No, Doctor, I an NOT depressed. I am unhappy, and I have a right to be unhappy. Current medical thinking seems to be denying me this right, dismissing the (genuine) reasons for my unhappiness, telling me that there is something wrong with me, not with my situation. It is, at its worse, denying me the right to be me!

In one of the countries Gulliver visits in "Gulliver's Travels", they treat the criminal and punish the sick. We're getting close!!!

12 Replies

  • I think this is a pretty good point you make. Again, of course not saying depression doesn't exist. But these days we have a tendency to use the term depression too loosely. It almost starts to lose its potency.

    This is life... and in life, we need to know what feeling down is like to know happiness.

  • Hi, I agree absolutely with your view that unemployment, illness, etc do occur and are a natural part of life. I also agree that anxiety and depression are natural responses to those very painful life events. I agree that a medical model implies that such reactions are illness and thereby labels individuals who are unhappy as sick - The psychiatrist Ronnie Laing would also have agreed, I am sure.

    However, for me the benefit of a professional attitude, particularly the medical model, towards emotions - the ONLY benefit - is that it gives people permission not only to have those feelings but also the RIGHT to expect help in coping with them. Unfortunately the kind of help offered in reality is not always helpful and the way it is offered is very often extremely unhelpful.

    In an ideal society we would all love and care for one another in all situations, but I only have to drive on our roads to see people behaving towards one another in ways that are also part of human nature. A Me, Me, Me attitude that has been so prevalent in society since Thatcherism has only served to increase the amount of unhappiness in society, particularly when the attitudes prevalent within Thatcherism praised self-interest. Self interest is a part of human nature, it's in our biology, but it's not a good thing.

    A society that gives people the RIGHT to need professional care and love is better than a society which leaves the unloved to flounder on their own with pain, and leaves too many people feeling such despair that they want to take their own lives.

    There was a time when religion offered such care, increasingly as people's faith in the good in human nature has been threatened, people turn to and believe in a more impersonal, professional form of 'love'. We human beings need something to believe in.

    Until the age of 40 I felt unreal - professional care, in various forms, has enabled me to feel real. I used to feel unloved - professional care enables me to feel loved when I am being loved. So many other changes as a result of professional care...

    It's ironic that your blog is the first thing I read this morning as I had just come out of a prolonged fantasy in which I am 'begging' a certain professional to give me more of his 'care'. That only serves to demonstrate how much craving for love I was left with as a result of the painful experiences that, to some extent, are the reality of life for everyone.

    Even professional care is better than no care in our increasingly uncaring society!

  • Hi, In my reply to your blog I forgot to add that yes, the pain of life experiences makes me a richer person, potentially more able to experience a real deep happiness. Some of the time I know that.

  • Interesting debate but I think that a competent GP should be able to distinguish between clinical depression, for which there are specific physiological and psychological markers and unhappiness due to life's ups and downs. I'm irritated by health practitioners who describe depression as a 'low mood', a real misnomer.

  • This is a good debate. I believe happiness is measured by what 'happens' in your life. Some things are good then you are happy and some things are sad. Depression is totally different.

    This is a state of mind where whatever 'happens' doesn't make any difference to your mood. I feel low even when something good happens in my life. People tell me I never seem happy. Even on a sunny day I still feel a cloud over me.

    I do sometimes feel better at times that is just because I have strategies to lift my mood. Such as exercise or listening to music. The term depression is used too often. Those of us who really suffer from 'it' (my Black Dog) know the difference between unhappiness and depression.

  • Your aptly named babe !! lol xx

  • golfers version is very true for me even if i won the lottery i would not feel happy. it doesnt matter what happens to me my depression does not get better. sometimes it gets worse by events such as receiving a letter recently from the council about my council tax benefit which i had t had to reapply for after being on income support for 20 years.i dont pay council tax due to being on benefits. it has taken them 6 weeks to realise this. i wonder if anyone else has had problems with their benefits.

  • Hi, I was interested to read about the distinction between clinical depression and depression as a response to environmental triggers, but disagree entirely with the idea that a GP can distinguish between the two! Even the most experienced psychiatrist would be unlikely to say they are able to distinguish for certain between an 'inbuilt' depression and a reactive one. The labels are a way of putting emotional problems into categories thereby enabling decisions about treatment. ALL depression will have a genetic component, because every aspect of our feelings, thoughts and behaviours stems from genetics: however that doesn't mean depression is purely genetic. Current research and understanding of depression, whether it's called clinical or reactive, is that it occurs as a result of an interaction between genes and environment.

    Genetically we inherit personality traits, some such as high levels of sensitivity (at an entirely biochemical inherited level) make a person more likely to be predisposed towards a depressive response. Whether or not they actually become depressed depends upon numerous other factors, some more important than others. So, for example, a very strong genetic predisposition towards a depressive response will make one infant respond to stress very early in life in a way that is very different for a baby with a more placid, less sensitive nature. This is the nature-nurture debate in psychology and is interesting reading. I was drawn to studying psychology because I wanted to understand whether I was doomed to depression forever because I was born with it, fated, or simply born bad. Luckily I have now learned that I'm bad but that there are no easy magical solutions to get rid of depression. I've also learned that my depression is not all the fault of other people like my parents, nor simply the result of one dreadful thing that happened to me. Depression is the result of an interaction between the personality I was born with and what has happened to me during my life.

    It is useful to think about because I think understanding depression is the key to dealing with it. Medication can be great for helping ease symptoms but I have found that understanding brings about a more substantial change. I can still become deeply depressed at moments, often when I turn to a website like this when I'm back in the black hole again, but I can also now experience moments of deep comfortable happiness when I know that I'm out of the endless kind of depression I used to feel.

    Keep up the debate, it's interesting and it is also therapeutic.


  • Hi Briarrose

    I just want to say thank you for writing your blog because the it has been helpful to me. I wrote my last reply and then forgot about it, but by chance came across it this morning when reading other blogs and have just gained a huge insight. In my reply I wrote "Luckily I've learned that I'm bad..." - I've been struggling with that feeling for years, now having written it in by reply to you I am able to see that of course I'm not bad, I'm just sad!

    Thank you again.


  • I agree that people do have the right to feel unhappy . They have the right to feel all kinds of emotions and it is called being human. Too many normal feelings and behaviours are nowadays being classed as mental illnesses and people are often labelled for life. There are no valid scientific tests for any of the hundreds of mental illnesses. They cannot be called diseases because a disease is something proven 100%. This is why they are known as disorders. MOre and more disorders are being merely invented by psychiatrists. I believe they want to class toddler tantrums as being a mental illness What next?. I do think depression exists but it is a state of mind . Putting people on antidepressants for months sometimes years is not the answer. They only mask the problem. and also bring problems of their own. They can even cause suicidal thoughts. I would like doctors to adapt a more hollistic approach looking at a persons diet and lifestyle and possible triggers that have caused the depression. Some people are just damm lonely , yet antidepressants are prescribed. I read a book called "Beyond Prozac" by Doctor Terry Lynch and it changed my life . People do need to realise that its ok to feel sad and that pills are not always the answer

  • Hi Briarrose,

    I've felt unhappy for sometime now even before i was diagnosed with depression, but i've never felt there was anything wrong. I often feel quite anxious, do u know if this is part of depression?

    from ruthcjenny

  • Hi hun - yes, anxiety and depression can and often do go hand in hand - as if one wasn't bad enough! :( Also, long-term anxiety/stress can cause depression - just look at soldiers suffeirng from "combat stress". If the human body/mind has been pushed too hard for too long, it can react with depression/anxiety.

    If you're seeing your GP about your depression, it might be an idea to tell him/her about the anxiety - some medication can help the anxiety, others make it worse. When I was first diagnosed with depression, one GP put me on prozac, and my anxiety went through the stratosphere!!! :( So maybe talk to your doctor, if you're on medication (and even if you're not!)

    Hope you start to feel better soon, hun, good luck and keep posting!




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