George Farthing, an expatriate British man living in America, who was recently diagnosed as clinically depressed, was dosed up on anti-depressants and scheduled for controversial electro-shock therapy when doctors realised he wasn’t depressed at all–only British.
Mr Farthing, a British man whose characteristic pessimism and gloomy perspective were interpreted as serious clinical depression, was led on a nightmare journey through the American psychiatric system.
Doctors described Farthing as suffering with Pervasive Negative Anticipation–a belief that everything will turn out for the worst, whether it’s trains arriving late, England’s chances at winning any international sports event or even his own prospects to get ahead in life and achieve his dreams.
“The satisfaction Mr Farthing seemed to get from his pessimism seemed particularly pathological,” reported the doctors.
“They put me on everything-Lithium, Prozac, St John’s Wort,” said Mr.
Farthing. “They even told me to sit in front of a big light for an hour a day or I’d become suicidal. I kept telling them this was all pointless and they said that it was exactly that sort of attitude that got me here in the first place.”
Running out of ideas, his doctors finally resorted to a course of “weapons-grade MDMA”, the only noticeable effect of which was six hours of speedy repetitions of the phrases “mustn’t grumble” and “not too bad, really”.
It was then that Mr Farthing was referred to a psychotherapist.
Dr Isaac Harvey explored Mr Farthing’s family history and couldn’t believe his ears.”His story of a childhood growing up in a grey little town where it rained every day, treeless streets of identical houses and passionately backing a football team who never won, seemed to be typical depressive ideation or false memory. Mr Farthing had six months of therapy but seemed to mainly want to talk about the weather–how miserable and cold it was in winter, and later how difficult and hot it was in summer. I felt he wasn’t responding to therapy at all and so I recommended drastic action-namely ECT, or electro-shock therapy”.
“I was all strapped down on the table and they were about to put the rubber bit in my mouth when the psychiatric nurse picked up on my accent,” said Mr Farthing. “I remember her saying ‘Oh my God, I think we’re making a terrible mistake’.”
Nurse Alice Sheen was a big fan of British comedy, which gave her an understanding of the British psyche. “Classic comedy characters like Tony Hancock, Albert Steptoe and Frank Spencer are all hopeless cases with no chance of ever doing well or escaping their circumstances,” she explained to the baffled US medics. “That’s considered funny in Britain and is not seen as pathological at all.”
Identifying Mr Farthing as British changed his diagnosis from “clinical depression” to “rather quaint and charming” and he was immediately discharged from hospital, with a selection of brightly coloured leaflets and an “I love New York” T-shirt.