Karp, David A. 1944–

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Karp, David A. 1944–

(David Karp, David Allen Karp)


Born May 9, 1944; married; wife's name Darleen; children: Peter, Alyssa. Education: Harvard University, A.B.; New York University, Ph.D., 1971; attended Boston College.


Home—Chestnut Hill, MA. Office—Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, sociologist, social psychologist, and educator. Boston College, Boston, MA, professor of sociology.


Charles Horton Cooley Award, Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, 1996, for Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness.


(With Gregory P. Stone and William C. Yoels) Being Urban: A Social Psychological View of City Life, Heath (Lexington, MA), 1977, 2nd edition published as Being Urban: A Sociology of City Life, Praeger (New York, NY), 1991.

(With others) The Research Craft: An Introduction to Social-Science Methods, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.

(With William C. Yoels) Symbols, Selves, and Society: Understanding Interaction, Lippincott (New York, NY), 1979.

(With William C. Yoels) Experiencing the Life Cycle: A Social Psychology of Aging, C.C. Thomas (Springfield, IL), 1982, 2nd edition, 1993.

The Burden of Sympathy, Auto Press (Detroit, MI), 1984.

(With William C. Yoels) Sociology and Everyday Life, F.E. Peacock (Itasca, IL), 1986, revised edition published as Sociology in Everyday Life, 1993, 3rd edition, with William C. Yoels and Barbara H. Vann, Waveland Press (Long Grove, IL), 2004.

Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Is It Me or My Meds? Living with Antidepressants, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Aging, Self, and Community, edited by J. Gubrium and K. Charmaz, JAI Press (Greenwich, CT), 1992; Inside Social Life: Readings in Sociological Psychology and Microsociology, Roxbury Publishing (Los Angeles, CA), 1998; and The Gerontological Prism, edited by J. Claire and R. Allman, Baywood Publishing (Amityville, NY), 2000.

Contributor to periodicals, including Journal of Qualitative Health Research, Qualitative Sociology, Social Report, and Gerontologist.


David A. Karp is a sociologist and author or coauthor of numerous books, including Being Urban: A Sociology of City Life, Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness, and The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness. Being Urban, his first book, looks at the interplay between theoretical models of urban life and the real perceptions of people who live in large cities. Particular attention is given to the ways people living urban lives create a sense of community, even though their environment would seem to work against such an effort. In Speaking of Sadness, Karp brings his own personal experiences to his subject, recounting his own bouts of depression, as well as relating the stories of many other chronic depressives. The author examines the ways in which society fosters depression and the ways in which a depressed person affects his entire family. He also presents the stories of a number of interviewees as they relate their own struggles with depression and its many effects. Karp "does useful work in its intelligent discussions of the thoughts of interviewees," commented Metapsychology Online Reviews Web site reviewer Christian Perring, who concluded that Speaking of Sadness "will be a source of information for writers who are concerned about the widespread use of drugs like Prozac."

The Burden of Sympathy addresses the issue of how caretakers of the mentally ill can themselves maintain a good and stable psychological state while fulfilling their duties to the siblings, children, parents, spouses, or other individuals in their charge. Drawing on some sixty interviews with people who help to care for a mentally ill relative, Karp shows how caretakers struggle to maintain a balance between giving generously of themselves and being overburdened, between powerful emotions and decisions that call for reason. In a Boston College Magazine interview with Robert Cohen, Karp noted that "often one of the huge problems for the family of someone who is severely mentally ill is that the sick person denies the diagnosis of mental illness, is unwilling to comply with medication, and—maybe hardest to take—treats caregivers like the enemy." Karp continued: "When family members do something for a physically ill person, they most often get gratitude. But mentally ill people tend to be resistant. They can often be angry and hostile. And, of course, they are engaging in behaviors that are likely to be extremely distressing. Virtually by definition, mentally ill family members are upsetting the coherence of everyday life." In this context, questions about what humans owe one another are raised, and the author examines the issues of moral and caring behavior in a society that frequently touts personal fulfillment as the ultimate goal. The author "brings the balanced, objective methodology of a social scientist to the overall topic," commented James Baker in a review for Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "However, it is the family perception of the mental health system that will be most engaging and enlightening to professional readers."

Karp shows that most people who care for a mentally ill person share feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and powerlessness. His book, stated Julia Glynn in Booklist, "is an enriching companion book for anyone seeking advice and solace for handling the issues that arise from loving someone with a mental illness." Karp told Cohen that "The underlying thread of this book is really how people draw boundary lines between themselves and another person, boundary lines of obligation and responsibility and sympathy: How do I honor a commitment to help somebody that I love without becoming engulfed by their misery?" Further, Karp speaks out "not only for the obligation of family members to care for their ill relatives, but also for our collective, social obligation to care for these families in crisis," noted Baker. "He suggests that society must struggle with what we owe these families, a struggle that should mirror the family's struggle with its debt to its ill family member. Indeed, he concludes by calling upon government to develop a national policy to save families troubled by the impact of a mentally ill relative."

In Is It Me or My Meds? Living with Antidepressants, Karp addresses an important question asked by many people who find themselves facing the prospect of taking psychotropic medication: how will the medication affect their personality? Can it turn them into someone that they are not, or can it alter the fundamental characteristics that make up a person's identity? In the book, Karp revisits his own experiences with depression and medical treatment and presents the experiences of some fifty other interviewees, ranging in age from fourteen to sixty, all of whom struggled with the question of how the taking of psychiatric drugs would affect their core sense of self. Karp seeks to dispel any attitudes within the medical profession that psychiatric drugs are applicable only insofar as they interact with biological systems. The author reminds both patients and medical practitioners that medications affect individuals differently; that symptoms and drug effects that are tolerable to one person may be unbearable to another; and that humans are not merely receptacles into which drugs may be placed, but are unique systems with varying reactions to drugs.

Karp does not suggest "that one should not take these meds, but it's clear that he understands—and he beautifully communicates—what a complex decision it is to start taking them, and to stay on them," observed Roberta Tsukahara on the ADDitude magazine Web site. Metapsychology Online Reviews reviewer Jo Doran commented that "Karp's voice is one we can rely on to show us more than we know, to offer other, informative and intriguing views, and through it all, to hold onto a clear and calm sociological view that neither falsely comforts nor causes despair." In a Library Journal assessment, Lynne F. Maxwell observed that Karp's qualitative approach "allows for poignant commentary as interviewees voice their thoughts and fears concerning medication and authenticity." Karp's book serves to "put a poignant face behind the title question," commented Booklist critic Donna Chavez.



Karp, David A., Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.


Adolescence, summer, 2003, review of The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness, p. 397.

Booklist, September 15, 2000, Julia Glynn, review of The Burden of Sympathy, p. 193; April 15, 2006, Donna Chavez, review of Is It Me or My Meds? Living with Antidepressants, p. 15.

Boston College Magazine, winter, 2001, Robert Cohen, "Both Sides Now," interview with David A. Karp.

Hedgehog Review, fall, 2006, Leigh Turner, review of Is It Me or My Meds?, p. 100.

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, March, 2002, James Baker, review of The Burden of Sympathy, p. 360.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2006, "Mental and Emotional Health," review of Is It Me or My Meds?, p. 6.

Lancet, September 2, 2006, Lindsay Banham, "Are My Meds Me?," review of Is It Me or My Meds?, p. 834.

Library Journal, May 1, 2006, Lynne F. Maxwell, review of Is It Me or My Meds?, p. 106.

Psychology Today, July-August, 2006, review of Is It Me or My Meds?, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, August 28, 2000, review of The Burden of Sympathy, p. 74.


ADDitude,http://www.additudemag.com/ (June 10, 2008), Roberta Tsukahara, review of Is It Me or My Meds?

Boston College Chronicle,http://www.bc.edu/ (September 8, 2008), "Living with Antidepressants: A Q&A with David Karp."

Boston College Web site,http://www.bc.edu/ (November 10, 2004), "David A. Karp."

Metapsychology Online Reviews,http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/ (June 10, 2008), Christian Perring, review of Speaking of Sadness; Jo Doran, review of Is It Me or My Meds?

Mood Disorder Support Group of New York Web site,http://www.mdsg.org/ (June 10, 2008), Betsy Naylor, review of Is It Me or My Meds?