Kelly Lambert's book, Lifting Depression, is an interesting read. Her basic premise is that the lack of what she calls "effort-based rewards" can lead to depression. She uses a combination of current research and evolutionary psychology to make this argument. Effort-based rewards are just what they sound like, working (expending effort) to attain a goal. Lambert thinks that if that goal is the creation of something tangible, so much the better. She tells us she beat depression by vacuuming, and recommends other activities such as knitting and sewing and cooking meals, which primarily use the hands and produce material objects. She argues that our ancestors did a lot more work with their hands and they had much lower rates of depression. I'm not sure we know what the ancient rates of depression were. Depression isn't a new thing; melancholia has been with us for a long time. It's diagnosed more now, and I would argue that's because of the continuing destigmatization (which unfortunately still has a long way to go).
I wouldn't object to Lambert's ideas as being of possible assistance in depression, had she not seen fit to trash the use of antidepressants and therapy along the way. I myself would not be able to FIND the vacuum cleaner without antidepressants, and while they may be overprescribed by general practitioners who have no business prescribing them, they are invaluable for those with moderate to severe depression. Lambert refers to meds at one point as "masking uncomfortable but important feelings." That's absolutely untrue. On meds, I laugh, cry, feel joy, feel anger -- feel the full range of human emotions. Without them, in the throes of depression, I feel only the low end of the spectrum, and my lows are lower than most. Lambert refers to depression as being useful in that it points to problems in our lives. While that can be true, people with depression are likely to fall into an episode with no trigger at all. Even when triggered, depression as a reaction is overkill. It's maladaptive.
There's nothing wrong at all with taking a multifaceted approach to treating depression, and I know lots of knitters who find knitting a fun and relaxing hobby. And I agree that making things from scratch can be incredibly satisfying. But there have been times in my past when I had anhedonia, the inability to take pleasure in anything, and I certainly tried to do things to bring myself out of it, but guess what worked? Therapy and medication.
If you have depression, I think it makes sense to try whatever might work to alleviate it. Exercise, cook, knit -- all of that. But I would also recommend finding a good psychiatrist and pursuing medical treatment. It's an illness with a high rate of relapse. Get treatment.
Kelly Lambert is speaking about her book at the Virginia Festival of the Book this Thursday. Hope to see you there.
Thu. March 19th, 2009 6:00 PM
Kelly Lambert (Lifting Depression) considers both our ancestors' lifestyles and the evolution of the mammalian brain to generate novel ideas and offer help for the skyrocketing rates of depression in contemporary society.