The limits of scientific writing: a look at depression

I have been researching population studies on depression recently and have been disappointed in how impenetrable some of the scientific literature is on the subject. Of course, these articles are written mostly for scientists and clinicians, but I find it kind of amazing that a topic that is so inherently fascinating can be made so dull in the pages of some journals.

For instance, yesterday I came across an article called The History of the Use of Antidepressants in Primary Care. It’s a promising title. The story of treatment of depression in the latter half of the 20th century is pretty momentous. This was the period when the first class of chemical anti-depressants were discovered – by accident. The discovery advanced the thinking that depression is a problem solely of brain chemistry, and cast what I believe is unfair skepticism toward the therapeutic treatments of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. This stuff is huge! But the Antidepressants article really fails at doing justice to this momentousness. Take for instance this snoozer of a sentence:

[P]sychopharmacology emerged relatively recently as an established science, yielding important classes of therapeutic agents targeting psychosis, depression, and anxiety.

I think scientific journals are essential for advancing knowledge in fields like psychiatry. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be working where I do. But sometimes I’m just amazed at the extent to which scientist can take the life out of the human experience.