1st Edition

Depression and the Erosion of the Self in Late Modernity
The Lesson of Icarus

ISBN 9781782205906
Published March 13, 2018 by Routledge
318 Pages

USD $46.95

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Book Description

Depression is not a disease of the brain, a genetic disability or even a mood disorder. Rather, shutdown, numbness or sadness are non-pathological adaptations to adverse childhood and adult environments. This challenging book thus understands depression as a wise response to an unliveable situation. It can teach us what is wrong with our lives and what we must learn in order to go beyond symptom relief and reconnect to our most fundamental needs, relational, existential and spiritual. Because moods shape how we engage with our outer and inner worlds, they underlie all human behaviour. If the sociocultural world is toxic or frustrates our core needs, we will withdraw to protect ourselves. Those who have encountered a non-facilitating environment in childhood will be even more sensitive to adult stresses, since their self-organisation is fragile and non-resilient. As depression is so complex, understanding it demands an integrative approach.

Table of Contents


Part I: The Self: Experience and Development

Chapter One: The experience of depressive breakdown: the role of loss and rejection

Chapter Two: The many ways of not being true to yourself

Chapter Three: Depression as consequence and cause of somatic conditions

Chapter Four: Childhood development: what does it take to build a self?

Part II: The Science of Depression

Chapter Five: Low mood as an appropriate adaptive response: an evolutionary perspective

Chapter Six: What science can tell us about depression: neuroscience, genetics and epigenetics; gut microbiota

Part III: A Depressive Society? The Impact on the Self, Relationships and Meaning

Chapter Seven: A non-facilitating environment?: the role of contemporary society and culture

Chapter Eight: Empty (narcissistic), false or fragmented: disorders of the self in later modernity,

Chapter Nine: The centrality of relationships: anxiety and the loss of connection

Chapter Ten: Depression and Meaninglessness: the loss of connecting and experiencing


Chapter Eleven: Fundamental human needs: a conclusion

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Barbara Dowds had a first career in science as a researcher at the University of California and TCD, and later as a senior lecturer in molecular genetics at Maynooth University, Ireland. She completed her therapy training in 2002, and then began to work as a humanistic and integrative psychotherapist. Barbara taught on various psychotherapy trainings between 2003 and 2014, and was on the editorial board of Eisteach, the journal of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, for seven years. She is the author of Beyond the Frustrated Self as well as numerous articles. Barbara is currently in private practice as a therapist and supervisor and presents postgraduate training workshops.


Barbara Dowds brings a wealth of disciplinary perspectives to the subject of depression. Alongside analysing 21 published memoirs of depression, and sensitively demonstrating depression’s many nuances, she threads in relevant psychotherapeutic theory, and discusses a biopsychosocial model rooted in early life experiences. Dowds concisely presents evolutionary, neuroscience, genetic, epigenetic and microbiological factors. Linking these foci with social breakdown phenomena, she examines depression as a disorder of the self. This book is surely one of the most passionate, intelligent and hopeful contributions to our understanding of an accelerating modern epidemic. It deserves the attention of all mental health professionals, social scientists and enquiring individuals.

Colin Feltham, Emeritus Professor, Sheffield Hallam University. His most recent works are Feltham, C. (2017) Depressive Realism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Routledge) and Sarraf, M., Woodley of Menie, M. & Feltham, C. (forthcoming) Modernity, Nihilism and Mental Health (Routledge)  

This book's deep, multifaceted exploration of depression challenges our current thinking. For Barbara Dowds, depression is not so much about 'mood' or genes as it is about the problem of getting innate human needs met. Dowds is equally at home whether she is discussing this in terms of early child development, a loss of connection with others or altered physical sense of self, or depression as the lurking underbelly of our narcissistic and materialistic society. I admire her wide reach and agree with her that the growing epidemic of depression requires social change as well as individual support.

Sue Gerhardt, author of Why Love Matters (Routledge) and The Selfish Society (Simon & Schuster)