Friday, March 17, 2017

Is depression in reality; a Nervous Breakdown?

All rights reserved 2005, Kregel  Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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  Yes, there is a difference between being stressed out and exhibiting signs of endogenous depression. It is sad that mentally ill people are continually told, “You just don’t know how to handle stress.” The stereotypical pictures of mental illness show a stressed-out housewife downing a handful of barbiturates  and eating bon-bons and of men and women in psychiatric hospitals shuffling around the hallways drooling. 
When I first became depressed in 1985, the “nervous breakdown” concept was still very much accepted by the public and by health professionals. The “biological theory” of mental illness was not nearly so widely acknowledged as it is today. 

The affected person is having a “nervous breakdown.” Social historians Megan Barke, Rebbecca Fribush, and Peter N. Stearns believe that the term nervous breakdown originated in the United States in about 1901.(Megan Barke, “Nervous Breakdown in 20th-Century American Culture,” Journal of Social History 33.3 (spring 2000): 565–84). 

The term nervous breakdown was introduced in a technical medical treatise and referred to a belief prevalent in the 1850s that the body was a machine and so subject to physical or mental collapse. Mental collapse came about when the stress on will and perseverance became intolerable. In the 1920s, it was not thought that the nerves literally snapped, but there was thought to be a real breakdown of the mind. Those involved in the 1920s discussion did not recognize a physical component to this breakdown. ( When I first became depressed in 1985, the “nervous breakdown” concept was still very much accepted by the public and by health professionals. The “biological theory” of mental illness was not nearly so widely acknowledged as it is today).

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This state of misunderstanding had social implications, for the images associated with a “nervous breakdown” were all negative. Barke, Fribush, and Stearns tell us that from the 1920s on it was strongly assumed that the breakdown victim was “responsible for his (or more commonly her) own fate.” The term took on even more negative connotations in the 1950s. It was said that everyone had a “breaking point.” Those who got depressed enough to be classified as mentally ill obviously had a low tolerance and a flawed personality. They could not take external stress because of an “underlying psychological weakness.”

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People raised under this level of prejudice will do anything to avoid going to a “shrink,” a “doctor for psychos.” They don’t want to be told, “You just don’t know how to handle stress.”Ironically, the idea of a “nervous breakdown” is somewhat accurate in describing what happens in an organic mental illness. Neurotransmitters in some sense do “break down” until the central nervous system malfunctions on a massive scale. But the baggage that attaches to the term remains an obstacle to treatment of mental illness and to acceptance of the mentally ill. 

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I was soon introduced to the misconception about my illness as I recovered from my initial bout of depression. That church in central Florida that had looked so promising was still without a pastor. I was feeling well enough to think seriously about renewing my candidacy. I called the deacon who headed the pulpit committee to ask about the possibility of still being considered. In his Southern drawl he responded, “Reverend, I understand that you got a case of the ‘nerves.’ . . .” It was quickly clear that the church would not be considering me any further. Looking back, I know that it was not God’s time for considering a return to pastoral ministry. Nevertheless, the deacon’s automatic prejudice against anyone with mental illness felt like a sword thrust (see Prov. 12:18).

This blog comes from the book Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You're Losing It.

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