Rethinking Depression – Book Giveaway!

We are giving away a copy of Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning, by Eric Maisel. Check out this article by the author, and then leave a comment for a chance to win your own copy of this book!

Rethinking Depression
By Eric Maisel

There is something profoundly wrong with the way that we currently name and treat certain human phenomena. When we call something a “mental disease” or a “mental disorder” we imply a great deal about its origins, its treatment, its intractability, and its locus of control. The mental health industry has its reasons for calling life’s challenges “disorders” but we have few good reasons to collude with them.

In fact, the word depression has virtually replaced unhappiness in our internal vocabularies. We feel sad but we call ourselves depressed. Having unconsciously made this linguistic switch, when we look for help we naturally turn to a “depression expert.” We look to a pill, a therapist, a social worker, or a pastoral counselor — even if we’re sad because we’re having trouble paying the bills, because our career is not taking off, or because our relationship is on the skids. That is, even if our sadness is rooted in our circumstances, social forces cause us to name that sadness “depression” and to look for “help with our depression.” People have been trained to call their sadness “depression” by the many forces acting upon them, from the mental health industry to mass culture to advertising.

Chemicals have effects and they can alter a human being’s experience of life. That a chemical called an antidepressant can change your mood in no way constitutes proof that you have a mental disorder called depression. All that it proves is that chemicals can have an effect on mood. There is a fundamental difference between taking a drug because it is the appropriate treatment for a medical illness and taking a drug because it can have an effect. This core distinction is regularly obscured in the world of treating depression.

Psychotherapy, too, can help remediate sadness for the simple reason that talking about your problems can help reduce your experience of distress. Psychotherapy works, when it works, because the right kind of talk can help reduce a person’s experience of unhappiness. To put it simply, chemicals have effects and you may want those effects; talk can help and you may want that help. Antidepressants and psychotherapy can help not because they are the “treatment for the mental disorder of depression” but because chemical have effects and talk can help.

By taking the common human experience of unhappiness out of the shadows and acknowledging its existence, we begin to reduce its power. At first it is nothing but painful to say, “I am profoundly unhappy.” The words cut to the quick. They seem to come with a life sentence and allow no room for anything sweet or hopeful. But the gloom can lift. It may lift of its own accord — or it may lift because you have a strong existential program in place whereby you pay more attention to your intentions than to your mood.

What is an existential program? It is people taking as much control as possible of their thoughts, their attitudes, their moods, their behaviors, and their very orientation toward life and turning their innate freedom into a virtue and a blessing. Even if people decide to take antidepressants or engage in psychotherapy to get help with their unhappiness, they will still have to find ways of dealing with their meaning needs, the shadows of their personality, their consciousness of mortality, and the facts of existence.

Living authentically means organizing your life around your answers to three fundamental questions. The first is, “What matters to you?” The second is, “Are your thoughts aligned with what matters to you?” The third is, “Are your behaviors aligned with what matters to you?” You accept and embrace the fact that you are the final arbiter of your life’s meaning. With this approach to life, each day is a project requiring existential engineering skills as you bridge your way from one meaningful experience to the next. By accepting the realities of life and by asserting that you are the sole arbiter of the meaning in your life, you provide yourself sure footing as you actively make meaning.

If we can begin to move from the “depression is a mental disorder” model to the idea that human beings must deal more effectively with the realities of human existence, including the realities of sadness, despair, and grief, we will have taken a giant step away from “medicalizing everything” and toward lives lived with renewed passion, power and purpose.


Eric Maisel, PhD, is a licensed psychotherapist and the author of Rethinking Depression and numerous other titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Coaching the Artist Within, and A Writer’s San Francisco. He blogs for Psychology Today and the Huffington Post and writes for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at


Based on the book Rethinking Depression © 2012 by Eric Maisel. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

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Winner: Please email Molly at to claim your new book. Thanks to everyone who entered!


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Kenneth L.
Kenneth L5 years ago

(got cut-off below)
"'Chemical imbalance'---sounds good, sounds we know there isn't any way to know what the 'balance' is" Dr. Thomas Gott, Neurosurgeon

"There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance. And any psychiatrist you talk to, if you ask him this question, they'll all admit it in private but they won't admit it in public. It's a scandal" Dr. Ron Leifer, Psychiatrist

"The 'chemical imbalance' is pure theory, unproven theory. There is no proof of that." Dr. Gary Kohls, M.D

"Contrary to what is often claimed, no biochemical, anatomical, or functional signs have been found that reliably distinguish the brains of mental patients.” - Elliot S. Valenstien, professor emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience

Kenneth L.
Kenneth L5 years ago

Cynthia says: "you do need an antidepressant along with the therapy for true chemical imbalances".
There is no such thing as a 'chemical imbalance'. Never been proven in any way shape or form regarding any 'mental disorder'. There is only supposition and theory. Ask your psychotherapist for any test or proof showing you have a 'chemical imbalance' and he will have none. Period. Don't believe me, ask him.

"There is no test available, because it doesn't exist. The diagnosis of 'depression' is ALWAYS made WITHOUT chemical tests, and the tests have NO reliability, because there are NO tests!
There is an enormous issue here of misinformation (regarding Psychiatry). There is an epidemic of misinformation and misunderstanding and it's enormous" Dr. Terry Lynch, M.D., psychotherapist

"('chemical imbalance' is) actually disproven by the science in the psychiatry journals, It's basically a product of marketing by drug companies and by the profession of Psychiatry, and if you interviewed a Biological Psychiatrist who thinks there are chemical imbalances and said 'okay, show me the evidence', he couldn't show it to you" Cr. Colin Ross, Psychiatrist

"It's a great line, the 'chemical imbalance'---there is no measurement for it, there is no way you can measure or document that such a thing occurs in the first place" Dr. Ann-Louise Silver, Psychiatrist

"'Chemical imbalance'---sounds good, sounds we know there isn't any way to know what the 'balance

Becky G.
Becky G5 years ago

Sounds like a great book that I'd like to read and share with friends.

Nicole G.
Nicole W5 years ago

Sounds like an insightful book!!

Silas Garrett
Silas Garrett5 years ago

Beyond simple unhappiness, I have what might actually be identified as depression, a tendency towards sadness and anhedonia beyond my current situation at times. Still, I have taken a similar approach to handling those bouts, by taking time to notice my emotional state and making an effort to keep it from spiraling out of control. I have never been diagnosed by anyone other than myself, but it is nice to see someone else taking a similar approach.

Rosie Jolliffe
Rosie Lopez5 years ago


Diana T.
Diana T.5 years ago

Thank you Lori, I appreciate the humor in life any time I can get it, and thank you for responding so quickly that was really nice to see. God Bless

Lori Rumpf
Lori Rumpf5 years ago

Although there is still plenty of stigma attached to therapy, I am no longer afraid to say that I go see a therapist and take an antidepressant. I have found that in many cases, the "depressed" are no more "mentally ill" than those who do not seek help.

Diana T.
Diana T.5 years ago

I was rasied by a drug addict alcoholic, most of my family is an addict of some sort weather it is food or drugs, work, drink or sex. So I thought I was doing good not to be addicted to anything, then after turning 50 I found out I am addicted to something a positive atmosphere and I have found myself surrounded by negative, ungrateful, and sarcastic people that I cannot stand to be around and I don't know how to handle it other than to shut myself in my bedroom at night and just hide. I watch cartoons and funny movies to take my mind of all the negative and it hasn't helped. I have found myself become negative and judgemental, and not too much fun to be around. I have gained weight and at 50 that hurts my positive attitude tremendously. please send me a copy of your book and I promise I will read it and use it in a positive way to help myself and the negbots around me.

Lauren Weinstock
Lauren Weinstock5 years ago

In my life I've found that being without health insurance creates a situation where you must determine when to go for help, when to look for alternative treatments, and when to bite the bullet. I believe our societal attitude of; give a drug, does little justice to people's innate sense of knowing what they need. It's a panacea, not a treatment or better yet an enlightened choice.
I love what I've read of this book, above. Bravo for giving voice on this subject in the way that you have- brave, forthright and honest.
Yes we all experience unhappiness and loneliness. It's part of the human condition. Now what are we going to do about it? Cover it up with drugs or learn to cope?