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Who is Peter Kramer?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Peter Kramer is a licensed, practicing psychiatrist, who is best known for his work on the subject of depression. He currently is on the faculty of Brown Medical School, and though he writes prolifically and lectures frequently across the country, he also continues to treat and evaluate patients. Several of his books, the 1993 Listening to Prozac, and the 2005 Against Depression are viewed as very interesting takes on the field of pharmacology and depression, and how this area is viewed by society as a whole.

One of the main contentions of Dr. Peter Kramer, especially in his book Against Depression is that depression is somehow viewed in a heroic light. He argues that suffering from depression is no more heroic than suffering from kidney disease, and that struggling to “bear up” under such a condition is ridiculous when medical treatment exists that can help cure the condition. A variety of factors may contribute to patients not wanting to take “drugs.” They may be stoic in the face of pain, feel that drugs are the easy way out, or they may view depression as a type of battle they can win. Some even argue that depressive states are the genius behind many artists, and that removing such depression would have caused loss of this art.

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What Peter Kramer counters is that he views depression as something akin to a stroke, and that there is now medical evidence that the condition doesn’t enhance the brain, but instead damages it. It is not in Kramer’s estimation, a “noble” metaphysical illness that in some way imparts special knowledge to those who suffer from it. Resisting treatment in order to get some type of mental or spiritual gains attributed to depression has become common because of the way society has elevated it, and from medical literature, Kramer argues that there are no gains to be had from failure to treat.

While many find the arguments of Peter Kramer to be intensely persuasive, others are alarmed by his suggestion that medicating “healthy” people might have positive results. For instance, in Listening to Prozac Kramer entertains the notion of cosmetic psycho-pharmacology, the idea of using medication in well people to produce certain desirable traits such as gregariousness and cheerfulness. It should be made clear that Kramer doesn’t endorse this method, but merely entertains it, but to critics, the whole topic of medicating people who don’t require medication is considered an abuse of drugs. Why not then, use cocaine because it makes you cheerful, or drink more wine because you have more fun when you do? However, Kramer does not make the argument that it should be done, and instead merely examines the possibility that it could be done.

Kramer maintains an active blog about his books and topics in psychiatry, where his opinions are more fleshed out. In a New York Times article, he does find fault with most general physicians prescribing medication because it takes time to decide which medicines will be most efficacious to treat illness, and to follow up with patients to be certain that they are medication compliant, and reacting in a desirable manner to what they’re taking. This view is shared among many psychiatrists, who believe that prescriptions of anti-depressants and other behavioral medications is rightly the province of psychiatry. Also, Kramer continually advocates psychotherapy as an important and essential part of the treatment of mental illness

Peter Kramer has also ventured into the world of fiction writing. His novel Spectacular Happiness represents extraordinary and unpredictable bad timing on its release. The novel’s main character is an eco-terrorist, and the book was released a month before the 9/11 attacks. Given the central character’s occupation, it did not enjoy much popularity. Despite this, Kramer does plan to write more fiction.

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