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Black Dogs and Blue Words

Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care

Kimberly K. Emmons

Publication Year: 2010

Winston Churchill called his own depression his "black dog." Black Dogs and Blue Words analyzes contemporary rhetoric surrounding depression and maintains that the techniques and language of depression marketing strategies target women and young girls, encoding a series of gendered messages about health and illness and encouraging self-diagnosis and self-medication. As depression and other forms of mental illness move from the medical-professional sphere to the consumer-public, the boundary at which distress becomes disease grows ever-more encompassing, the need for remediation and treatment increasingly warranted.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. vii

Illustrations and Tables

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Writing is a solitary and a social endeavor: I owe a great debt to many who have offered me the invaluable gifts of time, support, and intellectual engagement. First among those whose voices have resonated throughout my writing process are the women who agreed to be interviewed and who shared their experiences and expertise with me. ...

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Introduction: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care

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pp. 1-12

As a “mental illness,” depression sits at the intersection of physical, cognitive, and emotional realities; it is particularly vulnerable to the means of its own articulation. Without diagnostics such as blood tests or X-ray imaging, depression becomes visible or remains invisible through the language used to describe it. ...

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1. Depression, a Rhetorical Illness

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pp. 13-33

It is a double cruelty that depression often silences its sufferers. Beyond its affective pain, whether the illness manifests as a withdrawal from social interaction or as a permanent physical escape via suicide, individuals experiencing the symptoms of depression often seem to have limited linguistic resources available to them.1 ...

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2. Articulate Depression: The Discursive Legacy of Biological Psychiatry

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pp. 34-62

Understanding depression as a rhetorical phenomenon opens a space for analysis that attends to the discursive forms that shape the illness and the identities of its sufferers. The signs of illness—withdrawal from social contact, recurrent painful and guilty thoughts, loss of enjoyment in activities and interactions—paint sufferers as profoundly silenced, yet the volume of contemporary talk and text belies this characterization. ...

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3. Strategic Imprecision and the Self-Doctoring Drive

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pp. 63-93

In both medical and everyday practices, definitions of depression are often contingent and flexible, not necessarily adhering to the diagnostic precision that the DSM originally envisioned as its primary accounting goal. A certain amount of ambiguity and categorical expansion might be inevitable when interpreting the lived experiences of illness, ...

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4. Isolating Words: Metaphors That Shape Depression’s Identities

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pp. 94-121

The apparently straightforward algebra of depression might be expressed by the following equations: Depression = X; X ≠ “the blues”; X > normal sadness. But, as the variety of imprecise definitional practices reveal, the problem of X remains. Or, perhaps more accurately, the problem if X is multiplied within the discourse as the result of strategies that implicate a broad range of experiences as potential illness. ...

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5. Telling Stories of Depression: Models for the Gendered Self

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pp. 122-154

Metaphors for depression focus attention relentlessly inward: broad geographies narrow to personal drug cartographies, mythic beasts rarely replace familiars and domestic companions, mechanical descriptions illuminate the microscopic spaces between neurons. ...

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6. Diagnostic Genres and the Reconfiguring of Medical Expertise

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pp. 155-179

A1991 New Yorker cartoon by Stephanie Skalisky depicts the Mona Lisa as the portrait of a new medical diagnosis (figure 9). Surrounding the image of the painting, block text commands: “Know the four warning signs of Monanucleosis,” with contrasting white-on-black lettering that emphasizes the number (four) of symptoms and the name (Monanucleosis) of the disease. ...

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Conclusion: Toward a Rhetorical Care of the Self

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pp. 180-188

As a rhetorical analysis of the symptoms quiz for depression shows, what often passes for “care” in the discourse of depression is, in fact, self-doctoring. Texts that appear to promote personal autonomy and dialogue turn out to have gendered identities embedded within them. ...


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pp. 189-208


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pp. 209-213

E-ISBN-13: 9780813549224
E-ISBN-10: 0813549221
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813547206
Print-ISBN-10: 0813547202

Page Count: 230
Illustrations: 11 photographs and 9 tables
Publication Year: 2010