Neurochemistry and subjunctivities of depression in Kerala, South India.

The narrative of depression as a neurochemical imbalance in the brain or, more precisely, a deficiency of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine – largely produced by commercial interests of the international and national pharmaceutical industry and spread globally by international diagnostic systems – has found its way into the offices of mainstream psychiatrists in Kerala. In the clinical encounters, social, economic and existential suffering is thus transformed into a medical condition, treatable with pharmacological means.

On the one hand, the setting of a psychiatric outpatient department largely shapes the way depressive patients express their subjectivities. On the other hand, the diagnosis (and explanation) of depression as neurochemical imbalance and the prescription of drugs influences the way patients experience their suffering. Using two ethnographic examples, the aim of this paper is to analyze how subjectivities are construed and shaped in the process of negotiating depression in clinical encounters in mainstream psychiatric institutions in Kerala and how multiple framings and ontologies of affliction are assembled in them.

Subjectivities of depression are, it will be argued, less coherent than ambigious and fractured, unstable and fragile. They engage, accentuate and sometimes merge different, often contradictory discourses.

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They should therefore better be referred to as ‘subjunctivities’. The idiom of depression often becomes a rhetorical device to emphasize affiliation to a scientific medical discourse or citizenship and is often a statement to emphasize ‘scientific temper’ and modernity and to demarcate oneself from backwardness and superstition.