| About the book “Why do these things always
happen to me? Pessimists, whiners and Jonah’s…”Subject: Depression .
Author: Professor of experimental psychopathology,
Willem van der Does.
Illustrations: Peter van Straaten.
Friday, 17 September 2005, Van der Does
gave his inaugural lecture . Van der Does, professor in experimental psychopathology, never intended to write books for the public at large. But when he dealt with personality disorders in his lectures, the illustrations of the famous Dutch cartoonist Peter van Straaten , which portray everyday psychological suffering like no other, proved a most effective addition to the lecture material. Van der Does: ‘The students found the cartoons “quite interesting”, but when I used the material for a powerpoint presentation during an Information Day, the parents fell about laughing. It made me realise that I should do something with it.’ The result was the book: That’s just the way I am! A book about personality disorders, richly illustrated with cartoons by Peter van Straaten.
That’s just the way I am! was a great success – the English translation has just been published. Van der Does: ‘Non-Dutch people generally seem to understand the message behind Peter van Straaten’s cartoons, even though the characters are very Dutch.’ A second book was a logical conclusion, and it was not difficult to find the right subject: depression. This is Van der Does’ own research field, and well on th way to heading the list of human illnesses. The book is published next week under the title: Why do these things always happen to me? … Pessimists, whiners and Jonah’s . The book also includes cartoons by Peter van Straaten, but this time they are less prominent.
Seventeen per cent of people will suffer a depression in their lives, often referred to patients as their ‘worst ever experience’. According to the World Health Organisation, depression is currently fourth on the list of chronic illnesses. In fifteen years’ time it will be first or second on the list. What is the reason for this? ‘There is, of course, no single cause for something so complex,’ says Van der Does. ‘There have for some time been claims that instances of depression are increasing, and that depressions are now occurring more often in young people. This may be an effect of health care being more readily accessible, but, nonetheless, there does appear to be a real increase.’
The real culprit seems to be modern western society, although there is still speculation about the precise contributing factors. Van der Does points out people’s greater mobility and the consequent loss of close family ties. People’s eating habits are also being looked at; strict diets in particular make people more vulnerable. Van der Does: ‘But the most significant factor is probably the enormous opportunities, but at the same time extremely high expectations which are a feature of modern day life. There are a lot more possibilities, but there are also many more chances of failing. This results in a high level of stress. And depression is the result of a disturbance to the biological stress system.’