Thursday, 5 December 2013

Depression: "A Disease of Affluence"

I hope you are as shocked and horrified about the title of this blog post as I was when I read it in my university notes today. 

According to nobody (no reference was given), Diseases of Affluence includes DEPRESSION. I have done a LOT of reading on the subject of depression and consulted many highly acclaimed experts - never ONCE has there been a mention of depression being a disease of affluence. If anything, its those in POVERTY that are more likely to suffer (and there is research that proves this).

I asked Laura Collins about this and she said  "Depression: a disease of affluence?! Disgusting. Artful, really, in combining snobbery with condescension AND ungrounded social commentary all at once!"

When I was really depressed (pre hospital), someone said "Why don't you just get a job and earn some money? That will cheer you up!" NO NO NO - its not a question of just cheering up and earning a bit of money. The point is, its not about how much/little money one has in the bank, depression is not about being affluent or rich. 

I am thoroughly fed up of having to challenge / correct / query so much of what we are being taught in our lectures on the subject of mental health. Most of the facts / research that we have so far been presented are extremely misleading, inaccurate and out of date. Appalling really, given the amount of money we pay to go to university and you'd have thought the least they could do is get their facts right.

Last week, we were told Eating Disorders are caused by "Problem Parenting". Same module as the one today but different lecturer who I am still waiting to hear from on this. I challenged him the minute he said it but he was extremely patronising and tried to tell me about FBT (Family Based Therapy) - he needn't have bothered as I know all about Prof Janet Treasure / the Maudsley.

In my first year at university, we were presented with another appalling eating disorder lecturer which Charlotte Bevan and I re wrote. When I complained about the appalling content, my tutor was keen to talk with me about it, but I felt patronised and belittled  - there was no apology / no offer to correct the errors. On the plus side, I gather the same lecture wasn't on the syllabus last year. Thank God.

The other thing about the lecturer today, who was the one who was telling us about Depression being a "disease of affluence" is she seemed very concerned that us nutrition students admitted to enjoying the odd pizza, packet of crisps, bar of chocolate etc. I am a great believer in the 80:20 rule - whats wrong with it once in a while?

(I must add that she was the one who said in week 1 of this term that those with eating disorders are attention seeking and then flatly denied it - so we didn't get off to the best of starts)

So yes, Dr Lecturer, I have just eaten a pot of chocolate and vanilla cheese cake. Last night, I went out with my fellow (NUTRITION) students and I ate a CHEESE BURGER. I also have walked 7 miles / for 2 hours today. I am extremely aware of the risks of fast food / processed meals but previous severe rigidity around food has made me extremely ill in the past so I couldn't be more open now to flexibility - I think its about everything in moderation. I am probably the only 23 year old I know who has never ever smoked and I hardly drink either (and I listen to Radio 4 - I know I sound really boring)

I'm not going to be the nutritionist who qualifies and prescribes spinach for breakfast, broccoli for lunch and raw carrot for supper. Definitely not. Its about wholesome, fresh food (no "low fat" malarky) with no reason not to have the occasional ''naughty" thing in-between. 

I have never come away from university feeling so angry as I did today. I am surprised, actually, at how wound up I am about this. I didn't realise I cared quite so much. But I do. I mind a lot. Not least because many of those in the lecture know far less than me so they take what they read as "correct" and will go away with completely the wrong idea.

I told Ruby about it and she said "Scream at them". I didn't shout or scream, I walked out. I live with an assistant psychologist who is as appalled about this as me. I wish it wasn't me that was always the one to take the time to complain about it - I'm not a moaner, I just want the facts to be right. 


  1. You are right: on the facts and your calling them out.

    You are on the leading edge of better science and practice and it will be challenging for you to hear and endure this nonsense until others catch up to you. You will have to sit through foolishness and even outright damaging things from your elders, and hear it parroted by your peers.

    Rest assured that you are on the right side of things and will prevail. You will be a leader, indeed. Meanwhile, know that you are not alone and many of us are cheering for YOU.

  2. So what was their evidence for this association?
    Just postulating a theory here, but I am wondering whether intelligent people are somehow more prone to suffer with depression, perhaps due to the constant thoughts, analysis and critique that goes on. Also these are the people who are more likely to be in stressful demanding well paid jobs which have thus made them more affluent, and then burnt them out causing a breakdown and depression.

  3. I think when an academic refers to a 'disease of affluence' they are not referring to a disease of the rich but a disease which stems from increasing affluent societies at large. Pressure to conform, choice, advertising, constantly being told you can be whatever you want to be, and constantly failing to obtain whatever that elusive thing may be...that leads to anxiety around not being good enough, not conforming with social expectation and aspiration...that what leads to depression/eating disorders in many people, the constant cultural reminders that they are somehow 'inadequate'. That is what is meant by a 'disease of affluence'. The affluence pertains to the society an individual lives in rather than to the individual themselves.

  4. My eating disorder was definitely caused by problem parenting. Can't argue there.

  5. I like this website it's a master piece! Glad I found this on google.