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A Bad Case of the Flu? The Comparative Phenomenology of Depression and Somatic Illness

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Abstract:

This paper argues that the DSM diagnostic category 'major depression' is so permissive that it fails to distinguish the phenomenology of depression from a general 'feeling of being ill' that is associated with a range of somatic illnesses. We start by emphasizing that altered bodily experience is a conspicuous and commonplace symptom of depression. We add that the experience of somatic illness is not exclusively bodily; it can involve more pervasive experiential changes that are not dissimilar to those associated with depression. Then we consider some recent work on inflammation and depression, which suggests that the experience of depression and the 'feeling of being ill' are, in some cases at least, much the same (thus calling into question a more general distinction between psychiatric and somatic illness). However, we add that the phenomenology of depression is heterogeneous and that many cases involve additional or different symptoms. We conclude that 'major depression' is a placeholder for a range of different experiences, which are almost certainly aetiologically diverse too.

Keywords: Bodily experience; depression; inflammation; phenomenology; somatic illness

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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