Depression in the Media: Effects on Treatment and Identity in American Culture

This post was written by a student in Susan Schuyler’s Narrative, Rhetoric, and Identity class at Stanford University. Each student in this class will complete a research-based argument related to the course topic.

What is depression exactly? The truth is, no one really knows. Depression’s mixture of psychological and physical symptoms make the definition ambiguous. As Dr. Stephen Diamond, a forensic psychologist on anger, madness and destructive behavior asks in Psychology Today, “[i]s it a disease? A mental disorder? Biochemical imbalance? A brain dysfunction? A psychological syndrome? An existential or spiritual crisis?” No definitive answer exists, and the ways in which doctors treat cases of depression are most often based off of personal opinion. In the U.S., depression is generally thought of as a medical illness, and drugs are the most common form of treatment (Narrow, Regier, Rae, Manderscheid, & Locke, 1993). But treatment options without drugs do exist, and are effective in reducing symptoms of depression. So why do American doctors and patients ignore these psychotherapeutic strategies? What, if anything, has the presentation of depression in American society done to affect Americans’ notion of depression, and how depressed people incorporate the affliction into their identity?

Depression is often displayed in the media through depression medication commercials. The majority of these ads highlight the feelings of loneliness and despair victims of depression suffer, pitch the promoted drug, and read off a lengthy list of possible negative side-effects. I plan to examine how these commercials, along with other portrayals of depression in the media, may affect the perception of the illness in the U.S. population, and how that impression influences the way in which it is treated. Is depression medication actually effective? Is psychotherapy a better option? How do the ways in which people view depression affect how they incorporate it into their identity? In my researched based analysis, I will use scientific evidence as well as first hand accounts of depression’s image in the U.S. to make a statement about the media’s impact on depression in America society.

-Sean Christofferson, Stanford 2014


Narrow, W. E., Regier, D. A., Rae, D. S., Manderscheid, R. W., & Locke, B. Z. (1993). Use of services by persons with mental and addictive disorders: Findings from the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiological Catchment Area Program. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 95–107.


This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Stanford-CCNY, Fall 2010: Humanities, Identity, and Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Depression in the Media: Effects on Treatment and Identity in American Culture

  1. Jon says:

    Hi, I am Jon Gibbs a City College of New York student.

    Your topic is interesting but actually only “touches the tip of the iceberg”. Among the things you mentioned depression, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, is the broad description of a lot of issues. People often use “depression” when they are talking about bipolar disorder, manic depression, anxiety and a few other personality disorders.

    I went through anxiety a year ago and the first thing the doctors offered me was medication. This is despite the fact that the medication often has awful side effects including suicide.
    I would suggest connecting to the psychiatric ward at hospitals like NY Preysbeterian or Mount Sinai. Because of confidentuality laws they may be limited in how they assist you but they may give you ideas of how to even connect with people who suffer with depression related illnesses

  2. dad says:

    Idont no what are you say

  3. dad says:

    Iwant no about the nautral treatment of the disease and person who ifected with this disease are recovery and want advise

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