Peter D. Kramer, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University, poses a provocative and insightful theory in his newest book, Against Depression. Kramer suggests that depression, as a disease, is being ignored due to romanticized perspectives that label depression as an artist's muse. The idea of depression as a “necessary evil” of creative inspiration is one that remains prevalent, even in today's medically advanced society. For this reason, doctors are less likely to treat depressed individuals with the urgency the disease demands in order to save lives. Indeed, depression is unlikely to be considered a disease by most.
Kramer begins by explaining the series of events that prompted him to write about depression and the common themes he noticed among those suffering from the disorder. Though his intention in his previous book, Listening to Prozac, was to discuss the possibilities of using Prozac to alter personality traits in otherwise healthy individuals, because of Listening to Prozac, he inadvertently became an authority on depression.
He goes on to note how many doctors have a tendency to underestimate the severity of depression in individuals. He answers the recurring question of “what if” known depressive artists of the past had antidepressants available to them. He explores the frightening possibility that prolonged and repeated depressive episodes can cause permanent physical damage. He explains why perfectly healthy people are drawn to depressives and find them alluring, to their own dismay.
The ideas Kramer suggests are so incredibly logical that the reader will question why these queries have not been raised already. The research supporting Kramer’s theories is extensive and dates back centuries. The consequences of prolonged depressive episodes are terrifying for anyone suffering from the disease. The lack of response from the medical community, as well as the community at large, is unacceptable, but Kramer provides an eye-opening perspective regarding the reasons behind the lack of attention. It is likely that even most depressives find themselves falling into the dismissive category regarding the urgency of treatment because of the perceived value of their suffering.
The book does tend to read like a medical manual at times due to the extent of Kramer’s documented research. However, it is well worth the reader’s time to persevere through the more convoluted areas, because the research validates Kramer’s theories. He is a true intellectual, and his ideas provide a beacon of hope to those suffering from depression.
Kramer is the author of three other psychological studies: Should You Leave?, Spectacular Happiness, and Moments of Engagement. He is the host of the award-winning public radio series “The Infinite Mind.” Learn more about his endeavors at