Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness / Edition 1

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Combining a scholar's care and thoroughness with searing personal insight, Karp brings the private experience of depression into sharp relief, drawing on a remarkable series of intimate interviews with fifty depressed men and women. By turns poignant, disturbing, mordantly funny, and wise, Karp's interviews cause us to marvel at the courage of depressed people in dealing with extraordinary and debilitating pain. We hear what depression feels like, what it means to receive an "official" clinical diagnosis, and what depressed persons think of the battalion of mental health experts - doctors, nurses, social workers, sociologists, psychologists, and therapists - employed to help them. We learn the personal significance that patients attach to beginning a prescribed daily drug regimen, and their ongoing struggle to make sense of biochemical explanations and metaphors of depression as a disease. Ranging in age from their early twenties to their mid-sixties, the people Karp profiles reflect on their working lives and career aspirations, and confide strategies for overcoming paralyzing episodes of hopelessness. They reveal how depression affects their intimate relationships, and, in a separate chapter, spouses, children, parents, and friends provide their own often overlooked point of view. Throughout, Karp probes the myriad ways society contributes to widespread alienation and emotional exhaustion.

"...draws on fifty interviews with men and women battling depression, allowing the reader a personal viewpoint as well as a clinical one...describes the medications available to treat the disease and how depression affects others."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The millions of people who suffer hard and long with excruciating depressions will recognize themselves in these pages....Speaking of Sadness provides an open challenge to wrestle with the difficult questions."—Martha Manning, The New York Times Book Review

"A careful, honest writer, Karp has produced a classic equal to William Styron's Darkness Visible."—Library Journal

"Finally a book from the inside...by a scholar who admits to knowing this aspect of the human condition in his own person and has seen beyond the superstition of the 'medical model,' expressed in the lived experience of real and beautifully articulate people who, like himself, have been there."—Kate Millett, author of The Loony Bin Trip

Library Journal
This sociological consideration of illness and disease in contemporary America comes from a professor (Boston Coll.) who uses his own suffering, treatment, and theory along with reports of 50 others who volunteered to talk with him about their major depressive episodes. Karp writes well, addressing psychological, chemical, and cultural perspectives, with much credit to C. Wright Mills, Erving Goffman, and Arthur Kleinman. Many psychiatrists would agree that too little attention is paid to the nature of the pain and the impact of social context on our definitions of normality and treatment. "Self-help" comes under fire, too, as shallow ideology in a time of advancing anomie. A careful, honest writer, Karp has produced a classic equal to William Styron's Darkness Visible (LJ 8/90) and Clifford Beers's A Mind That Found Itself (1908). Highly recommended for sufferers, would-be healers, and anyone interested in the effects of depression.-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, D.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195113860
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/24/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 663,449
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

David A. Karp is Professor of Sociology at Boston College. His earlier books on cities, everyday life, and aging reflect his enduring interest in how people invest their daily worlds with meaning.

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Table of Contents

1 Living with Depression 3
2 The Dialectics of Depression 22
3 Illness and Identity 50
4 The Meanings of Medication 78
5 Coping and Adapting 104
6 Family and Friends 134
7 Sickness, Self, and Society 165
Postscript: Sociology, Spirituality, and Suffering 189
Appendix: Thinking about Sampling 197
Notes 203
References 221
Index 233
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2002

    Insightful but poorly constructed

    I feel the need to preface my reaction paper, by expressing my initial reaction to the readings. I felt so much compassion for David Karp and his respondents that I had to read, read, and re-read the first few chapters in order to unplug my emotions. Desensitizing myself allowed me to understand the overall concept of the book. David Karp, in Speaking of Sadness, accomplishes what he sets out to do. He analyzes depression in light of the symbolic interaction theory. He explains that this theory holds ¿that all objects, events, and situations acquire their meaning through processes of human interpretation.¿ Karp allows the reader to get inside the heads of depressed people, to listen to their voices, and to put meanings to the metaphoric language that they use to describe how it feels. One of his main intentions is to debunk the (then) current medical interpretation of the cause as being purely pathological. I am trying to keep in mind that this book was written in the 70¿s and perhaps the APA definition was different from what it is now. The current description of possible causes of depression include biochemistry as well as genetics, personality, and environmental factors. I will try to apply the historical perspective in reviewing this book. Karp conducted what he deemed to be extensive interviews with fifty clinically diagnosed people suffering from depression. Most respondents were interviewed only one time. The interviews lasted between one and a half and three hours. Because he found significant consistencies in the way they felt and dealt with depression, the fact that depression had dramatically increased since World War II, along with other social, economic and political changes in the American culture, that the study warranted analysis from the sociological perspective. As he puts it, depression is not a private problem, but a public problem. Having suffered from depression for more than twenty years, and being a professor of Sociology, Karp is not an ¿outsider, looking in.¿ One of my criticisms of the book is that some of his interview questions reflect that he is biased and might, perhaps, be reconfirming in others what he felt and how he dealt with the ¿dis-ease of disconnection.¿ When respondents could not describe how they felt, he offered a description from his own experience. I feel that this is putting words into their mouths and consequently is not a scientific analysis. I don not have a scientific background, but I have done marketing research surveys, and I know that the questions should not reflect a predisposed answer. In addition, his questions are not generally open-ended. ¿Can you see yourself getting off this medicine?¿ is an example that comes to mind. It carries an implication that perhaps it is something that the interviewee should consider. His first interview question is, ¿When did you know that something was really wrong?¿ and that was exactly how he described himself. In general, the questions seem to reflect the same language that he used to describe his personal experiences with depression. I can not offer a better set of questions, but it just seems to me that most of them are ¿leading¿ the respondents to the answers, rather than being objective. However, I applaud his efforts to expose the real experiences and his understanding that depressed people need to see how others experience depression. Karp does an apt job of exposing how depressed people perceive and often distort the social world in which they live, as they try to make some sense of what is going on inside their heads and hearts. Karp points out that people who suffer from physical diseases, such as cancer, are expected to socially withdraw, but with depression, it is both a consequence of the illness and a defining characteristic of the illness. In other words, they feed on each other, isolating the individual from human connection. ¿Normal¿ human bein

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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