by Bill Schubart Recently, the leader of a major eastern university observed that 25 percent of his incoming class this year is on some form of prescribed psychotropic medication for ADHD, depression, or anxiety. Seventy percent of all Americans are taking some form of prescription medication, and 10 percent of them are on anti-depressants. Among women between 40 and 50, the number is 25 percent. In fact, antidepressant use in the US has quadrupled in just the last 30 years.
This may be partly because Pharma spent $240 million last year lobbying Congress to deter regulation and competition, $3 billion marketing to consumers and $24 billion marketing drugs to health care professionals. And we just gobble them up, spending $330 billion in 2013 or about $1,000 for every American.
But finally, Pharma’s highly selective publication of research trials on the effectiveness of anti-depressants is coming under scrutiny. In an official 2017 statement, the United Nations concluded that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes that must be abandoned.” And it goes on to suggest that we move from “focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’ to focusing more on “power imbalances” since much of what we now call “depression” may simply be the normal emotional response to poverty, powerlessness, and abuse.
Real pain serves a purpose in our lives, it warns us that something’s wrong, either physically or situationally. So it’s important to distinguish between the pathology of a clinical mental disorder and simple grief, and begin treating the root causes of our grief rather than medicating it.
Our compulsion to swallow a pill for every discomfort we encounter denies the human condition. All religions and philosophies acknowledge the existence of pain and suffering as an integral, and often restorative, part of life. But we’ve come to prefer to medicate our grief, loneliness, situational anxiety, or discouragement as “depression.” And this makes us complicit in our own addiction.
Pharma markets physical and emotional pain relief and we eagerly consume it. The plague of addiction includes opiates but also extends well beyond. It’s become cultural, enriching Pharma and impoverishing us as humans.
As William Blake said 200 years ago:
“Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the World we safely go.”
This commentary by Bill Schubart first appeared on Vermont Public Radio. Copyright © 2018 Magic Hill LLC