- Are We Prosaic Deep Inside?Depression Memoirs, Resourceful Narratives, and the Biomedical Model of Depression
In “Prozac or Prosaic Diaries?”, Ginger Hoffman and Jennifer Hansen examine gendered messages in popular depression memoirs, using narrative self-constitution theory to emphasize the damaging effects such messages can have on women readers. In doing so, they bring a welcome feminist perspective to matters of mental health, as well as raising thought-provoking questions about depression memoirs, a genre that can have a far-reaching impact on public opinions about mental illness. Overall, Hoffman and Hansen do an excellent job of explaining the philosophical concepts that form a basis for their arguments. This work allows even relative newcomers to philosophy (such as myself) to follow along, co-inspecting the ways in which certain gendered themes in depression memoirs can reinforce and transmit aspects of larger societal stereotypes. There is room, however, for further exploration of what seems to be one of the article’s underlying suppositions: That “the biomedical model of depression” reduces something fundamental in the people to whom it is applied. In the rest of this commentary, I examine where this supposition seems to occur and attempt to explore multiple possible viewpoints, drawing on the concept of resourceful versus restrictive narratives (Hoffman & Hansen, 2017, p. 288) to identify ways in which antidepressants and a biomedical approach to depression can be resourceful for depressed women. In doing so, I hope to complement the work of Hoffman and Hansen’s article.
The Neediness Message
One potentially restrictive, although largely unintentional, message that Hoffman and Hansen have found more frequently in female-authored than male-authored depression memoirs is that depressed women are needy and romantically preoccupied. They give examples from several female-authored depression memoirs of thematic content related to romantic love: Lack of it, dissatisfaction with the state of it, wanting to overcome depression to obtain it, and so on. The male-authored depression memoirs they examine do not contain this theme of romantic neediness. Thus, a troubling story seems to emerge: Depressed women [End Page 299] (far more so than depressed men) need romantic love to somehow save them from their depression and/or serve as a gauge of their recovery.
There is room for debate (although regrettably little in this commentary) about how antidepressants relate to a larger feminine neediness narrative. Could antidepressants simply be a symbolic replacement for that good man who will one day make depression go away, nothing more than a new object of dependency? They could, and this warrants discussion. The overselling of antidepressants’ powers warrants even more extensive discussion. Nevertheless, it should not be overlooked that antidepressants have made our narrative more resourceful. They have expanded rather than restricted our repertoire for combatting depression, with an increase in the odds that depressed women will find reprieve from their very real suffering. Given that approximately 10% of women in the United States suffer from depression in any given year at approximately twice the rate of men (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 165), even small victories against this disease represent feminist gains.
However, as Hoffman and Hansen point out in this article and more extensively in “Is Prozac a Feminist Drug?” (Hoffman & Hansen, 2011) there is a problem if we use the—again, dishearteningly small—odds that Prozac will bring about remission from depression as cause for complacency (Hoffman & Hansen, 2017, p. 288). If we stop advocating for safer, fairer, more empowering conditions for women, we will have allowed our narrative about women’s mental health to become restrictive, and gains from our biomedical endeavors will have been severely undermined.
The Uncreativity Message
The uncreativity message is another potentially restrictive message that Hoffman and Hansen identify in the comparison of female- and male-authored depression memoirs. At its core, it is about the relative confinement of women to “realms outside the ‘heroic artistic genius” (Hoffman & Hansen, 2017, p. 293). A cultural narrative in which women inherently lack the same degree of literary talent as men is clearly restrictive. A glance at any university’s Lit 101 syllabus will also confirm that such an external...