Black Dogs and Blue Words

Black Dogs and Blue Words: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care

KIMBERLY K. EMMONS
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 230
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj02x
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  • Book Info
    Black Dogs and Blue Words
    Book Description:

    His "black dog"--that was how Winston Churchill referred to his own depression. Today, individuals with feelings of sadness and irritability are encouraged to "talk to your doctor." These have become buzz words in the aggressive promotion of wonder-drug cures since 1997, when the Food and Drug Administration changed its guidelines for the marketing of prescription pharmaceuticals.Black Dogs and Blue Wordsanalyzes the rhetoric surrounding depression. Kimberly K. Emmons maintains that the techniques and language of depression marketing strategies--vague words such as "worry," "irritability," and "loss of interest"--target women and young girls and encourage self-diagnosis and self-medication. Further, depression narratives and other texts encode a series of gendered messages about health and illness.As depression and other forms of mental illness move from the medical-professional sphere into that of the consumer-public, the boundary at which distress becomes disease grows ever more encompassing, the need for remediation and treatment increasingly warranted.Black Dogs and Blue Wordsdemonstrates the need for rhetorical reading strategies as one response to these expanding and gendered illness definitions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4922-4
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Introduction: Depression and Gender in the Age of Self-Care
    (pp. 1-12)

    As a “mental illness,” depression sits at the intersection of physical, cognitive, and emotional realities; it is particularly vulnerable to the means of its own articulation. Without diagnostics such as blood tests or X-ray imaging, depression becomes visible or remains invisible through the language used to describe it. That language—from pharmaceutical advertising slogans to epidemiological models of the illness’s frequency, from colloquial phrases such as “feeling the blues” to diagnostic terminology such as “psychomotor agitation or retardation”—both reflects and shapes contemporary attitudes toward health and illness, and in particular toward gendered expectations of who is vulnerable and of...

  6. 1 Depression, a Rhetorical Illness
    (pp. 13-33)

    It is a double cruelty that depression often silences its sufferers. Beyond its affective pain, whether the illness manifests as a withdrawal from social interaction or as a permanent physical escape via suicide, individuals experiencing the symptoms of depression often seem to have limited linguistic resources available to them.¹ According to many sufferers, words cannot describe the pain of depression, and yet it is ironically a condition largely known through the words that they do find. Access to treatment occursonlythrough the interpretive act of diagnosis, and diagnosis itself depends on the report of recognizable symptoms. The patterns of...

  7. 2 Articulate Depression: The Discursive Legacy of Biological Psychiatry
    (pp. 34-62)

    Understanding depression as a rhetorical phenomenon opens a space for analysis that attends to the discursive forms that shape the illness and the identities of its sufferers. The signs of illness—withdrawal from social contact, recurrent painful and guilty thoughts, loss of enjoyment in activities and interactions—paint sufferers as profoundly silenced, yet the volume of contemporary talk and text belies this characterization. The discourse of depression articulates the illness within a series of gendered identities in both senses of that verb:joiningfeatures into a single illness, andpronouncingdistinctly the identities associated with it. Historically, this verb also...

  8. 3 Strategic Imprecision and the Self-Doctoring Drive
    (pp. 63-93)

    In both medical and everyday practices, definitions of depression are often contingent and flexible, not necessarily adhering to the diagnostic precision that theDSMoriginally envisioned as its primary accounting goal. A certain amount of ambiguity and categorical expansion might be inevitable when interpreting the lived experiences of illness, but the discourse of depression maintains astrategicimprecision through a variety of linguistic and rhetorical structures. Such structures blur the boundaries between health and illness; they conflate experience and symptom, largely by deploying an apparently interchangeable vocabulary that has come to signify illness without specifying it. For individuals, this strategic...

  9. 4 Isolating Words: Metaphors That Shape Depressionʹs Identities
    (pp. 94-121)

    The apparently straightforward algebra of depression might be expressed by the following equations: Depression = X; X ≠ “the blues”; X > normal sadness. But, as the variety of imprecise definitional practices reveal, the problem of X remains. Or, perhaps more accurately, the problem if X is multiplied within the discourse as the result of strategies that implicate a broad range of experiences as potential illness. When equations fail, metaphoric and figurative language often provides an alternative mode of explanation: Tracy Thompson calls her depression, simply, “The Beast”; a synaesthetic transfer from feeling to vision underwrites references to depression as...

  10. 5 Telling Stories of Depression: Models for the Gendered Self
    (pp. 122-154)

    Metaphors for depression focus attention relentlessly inward: broad geographies narrow to personal drug cartographies, mythic beasts rarely replace familiars and domestic companions, mechanical descriptions illuminate the microscopic spaces between neurons. The larger stories in which these figurative constructions are embedded work in similar ways to direct individual attention toward the self, particularly toward the gendered self. Within stories of depression, specifically gendered forms of self-doctoring are modeled and prescribed to readers. Built on the foundations of imprecise definitional practices, isolating metaphors, and the science of biological psychiatry, stock characters in these stories encourage self-fashioning within restricted health and illness identities...

  11. 6 Diagnostic Genres and the Reconfiguring of Medical Expertise
    (pp. 155-179)

    A 1991New Yorkercartoon by Stephanie Skalisky depicts theMona Lisaas the portrait of a new medical diagnosis (figure 9). Surrounding the image of the painting, block text commands: “Know the four warning signs of Monanucleosis,” with contrasting white-on-black lettering that emphasizes the number (four) of symptoms and the name (Monanucleosis) of the disease. Overlaid on the image are text bubbles enumerating each of the signs of illness: “loss of eyebrows and eyelashes” attaches to the corner of an eye; “ever-present enigmatic smile” to the mouth; “rigid posture” gestures to the figure’s left arm; and “loss of body...

  12. Conclusion: Toward a Rhetorical Care of the Self
    (pp. 180-188)

    As a rhetorical analysis of the symptoms quiz for depression shows, what often passes for “care” in the discourse of depression is, in fact, self-doctoring. Texts that appear to promote personal autonomy and dialogue turn out to have gendered identities embedded within them. As individuals take such texts for granted, they cease to question the authority or validity of their uses of them; like the women who spoke with me, they begin to feel reassured by the familiarity of the selves they encounter through the stories and genres that help construct depression as a common mental illness. The discourse of...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 189-208)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 209-213)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)