According to a new study, the promotion of friendship between adolescents can reduce both incidence + prevalence of depression http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/282/1813/20151180/
Psychologist Martin Seager comments:
This makes sense but is pretty obvious stuff to a psychological eye – there’ll be a study soon to claim that loving babies improves their mood compared to ignoring them! – also it’s bad early relationships/poor attachments that usually cause mental health problems in the first place (low self-worth and even no secure sense of self at all) so prescribing good relationships is obvious in one sense but the people who really need the friendships are precisely those people who don’t have them.
This kind of paradigm also medicalises natural human emotions – if only good relationships could be prescribed – where decent relationships are available in any sphere of life people always feels better – we are a relational species.
Probably much better science not to think of feeling depressed as a “mood disorder” at all but rather as a normal human reaction to not having basic psychological needs met – these needs are simple:
1. to be loved
2. to be heard
3. to belong
4. to achieve
5. to have belief and purpose
Any human being whose needs in these respects are not met will inevitably feel very low and depressed – the more needs are not met the lower the mood will sink until life itself may not feel worth living – that is a normal reaction – calling this a “disorder” will only create a label that separates off depressed people and stigmatises them as having an abnormal condition that other people don’t have – truth is we all have this condition, it’s called the human condition
Think when you were last feeling very low, you will find some of those 5 needs were not being met – yes this affects brain chemistry (serotonin) etc but this is the result not the cause, so boosting brain chemistry is just a holding mechanism not a lasting corrective
If instead of treating depression as a mental condition we simply try to meet the unmet needs of the human condition in each sad person before us, their mood will “magically” improve – this is not placebo but psychological science – those interventions that already work always involve a caring relationship – the relationship is not the bathwater but the baby! The scientific evidence already shows that relationships are key to everything but everyone is so obsessed with promoting their own brands and techniques of “intervention” that they forget to study and analyse the detail of the human relationships underpinning every intervention
In broad and universal terms these are the empathy, warmth and genuineness referred to so much by Carl Rogers – if babies get this they dont develop bad feelings about themselves in the first place -and they become integrated beings – for those who don’t get this early in life, its not too late to offer it but it gets harder and more complex the more layers of damage/neglect there are
Of course we all have biological needs and social needs too but Maslow was wrong about the simple hierarchy – if we have food and shelter but the psychological needs are not met we still will become suicidal – most suicidal people have a roof and food – so the soup and shelter approach to homelessness will never be enough unless the giving of soup and shelter also brings empathy, warmth and genuineness in consistent relationships that the homeless person can rely upon over time to meet unmet needs – this simple human model is lacking across mental health services, the running of the NHS and indeed society as a whole – it is a public health issue every bit as important as John Snow’s correction of the water supply to prevent cholera – if we want to prevent mental health problems then we have to correct the love supply and that means looking at policies on child-adult attachments, parenting, schooling and the early years – our society packs off kids to secondary and less secure attachments far too early – adults are taught to think of themselves as taxpayers first and as nurturers of children last, so we promote running nursery care businesses above incentivising people to look after their own kids – we put money before people in every walk of life and mental dis-ease is the result
As a result we will have a generation of kids more attached to mobiles and computers than to humans – we will have more teenage pregnancy as youngsters confuse sex with the love/attention and the esteem that they lack – we will have more drug use and self-harm to combat empty and depressed feelings – we will have more gangs amongst deprived males to combat feelings of worthless and alienation
We need a joined up bio-psycho-social vision for our society not a menu full of tariffs and “evidence-based” interventions for obsessively itemised and segregated disorders – we have so many trees and cannot see the forest.