The basic philosophy informing this website is that the way you see and talk about something has a profound effect on what you experience and can do with it. The site aims to help users construct empowered positions in relation to depression.
Constructing empowered positions
Care has been taken to present depression in a way which positions those affected by it with options, strategies and empowerment to resist its effects in their lives. Some of the ways in which these empowered positions have been constructed include:
- Talking about how depression ‘affects’ people, rather than talking about ‘depressed people.
- Using illustrations to present depression as a separate entity rather than a ‘character trait.
- Discussing depression in terms of habits which can be changed or modified.
- Debating the benefits and drawbacks of the ‘illness’ model of depression as an introduction to the idea that depression can be seen and constructed in different ways.
- Critically evaluating social and cultural influences on depression, to provide the potential for options other than an ‘individual sufferer’ position.
- Encouraging an activist or resistance position through the site title and Take Action section.
- Prominently including stories of real student experiences framed in terms of strategies for resisting and managing the effect of depression.
The theoretical and philosophical foundations for this presentation concept are the basic principles of social constructionist narrative therapy. The writings of Kenneth J. Gergen* on social constructionism, and his description of social constructionism as the source of “new possibilities for action”, provided the catalyst for the ideas. Their development was informed by John McLeod’s take on narrative therapy*.
A simple analogy might serve best to illustrate the application of social constructionism to mental health issues.
How transport choices construct the world
Think about how different the landscape would look if any other form of transport – eg. walking, cycling, trains or horse-drawn vehicles – took the primary role occupied by the motorcar in modern Britain (and many other countries)…
The development of motor transport has constructed a very specific kind of world to live in. The road network built to facilitate the use of motor vehicles has increasingly determined the placement of further development, shaping villages, towns and cities in very specific and far-reaching ways. The widespread use of motorcars has profound implications for the other available choices of transport, such as walking or cycling, for economic systems and the relative wealth of nations, and of course for the planet itself.
A landscape structured around the use of trains, or star-trek style “beaming up”, or horse-drawn vehicles for ordinary transport would have constructed an utterly different landscape and society. We may yet have to come up with alternatives to the car, and therefore alternative ways of constructing our society…
How ‘mental illness’ constructs human identities
In the same way, the categories we use to describe human behaviour also construct specific paths for that behaviour. If we conceive of human distress in the form of categories of illness, then this allows us to provide certain kinds of help for that distress but also hinders certain other forms of relief .
The suggestion is not that either the ‘car’ or any other category is right or wrong, but simply that new possibilities for action and positions from which to act are opened up by trying out a variety of ways of categorising and conceiving of human behaviour.