Friday, November 18, 2011

America the Drugged

If you add in those Americans who are not women, the unwomen, the number still exceeds 20%.

KJ Dell’Antonia is right to sound the alarm: “’Normal,’ whatever that is, can't possibly be a state that 25 percent of women can only reach with the assistance of a prescription. I've no doubt at all that there are people out there who've benefitted enormously from prescription drug treatments for mental health disorders, and I'm not making light of their needs.”

Still, somehow, something is wrong. And it looks like something is wrong with America.

Of course, the statistics refer to prescriptions written, not pills taken. Fair enough.

Beyond that, the study’s definition of mental illness is vague and imprecise.

When you lump together depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, and bipolar illness you have confused mental and social distress with brain diseases, neurological conditions, and metabolic disorders.

New research has shown that improving personal habits—getting over one’s gluttony and sloth—will have a markedly beneficial effect on depression and anxiety. To the best of my knowledge, ADHD is a neurological condition that does not improve significantly with better diet and more vigorous exercise.

Of course, many psychiatrists and cognitive neuroscientists would not make the distinction between mental and physical illness. They believe that all forms of mental illness are really brain malfunctions.

Therapists used to think that it was all in the mind. Many of today’s cognitive neuroscientists think that it’s all in the brain.

Some neuroscientists do not even accept that the mind exists separate from the brain. Unfortunately, this attitude has seeped into the cultural groundwater and has persuaded many, many people that your emotional problems should be treated with medication.

Since insurance companies find this approach congenial, many sufferers have no choice other than medication.

Mental problems do have a biochemical component. So, the point is not entirely nonsense. If true love turns sour or if you lose your job or if you throw an interception, you will feel a measure of despair and anguish.

Let us grant that the despair and anguish will affect brain chemistry and will show up on a PET scan.

Does this necessarily mean that every time you feel sad or anxious, your first line of attack should be to take a pill?

Sometimes it is good to feel bad. How would you have any moral sense if you did not feel bad for having failed at a task, abrogated a responsibility, or behaved badly? If you never felt bad, you would have no incentive to perfect your skills or improve your character.

And, if anxiety warns you of danger, what advantage could there be in dulling your sensors?

A culture that induces people to medicate their moral failings is making them less functional.

While some neuroscientists think it’s all in the brain, others have discovered that if you make everything a function of brain chemistry, people tend to feel that they are absolved of duties and responsibilities.

If it’s all in the brain, and if everything is determined by brain chemistry, you have no free will. Without free will you have no responsibility for your actions.

A determinist theory allows people to believe that if they practice gluttony and sloth there is nothing that they, using their minds, can do to control it.

If they are suffering from a medical condition, not a moral failing, they will naturally conclude that the only way to solve it is to take a pill.

If the pills don’t help very much, then at least you can feel like a celebrity. Didn’t Brooke Shields and Catherine Zeta-Jones courageously announce to the world that they have received psychiatric treatment?

Before cheering the great public service that they rendered, we should keep in mind that when a celebrity confesses to a mental illness she might be encouraging others to see themselves as mentally ill.

Once this happens, some people who feel lost and bereft, not knowing what is wrong, will develop symptoms that the culture deems interesting and treatable.

Having the right symptoms of mental illness makes people feel like they belong.

I would even say that psychiatric medication serves as a communion wafer for unbelievers.

If so, it’s an inferior Eucharist. Religion emphasizes metaphysical entities like the mind and soul. It confers free will and insists on moral judgment.

And, religion is highly judgmental.

In a world where we habitually medicate emotional distress, there is no place for moral responsibility or moral judgment.

Stripped of free will and moral responsibility citizens cannot maintain their social standing by showing good character. They are reduced to being good consumers of medication.

Besides, medicating mental illness is a huge industry. Just think of the hit the economy would take if, suddenly, Americans rose up en masse and took up jogging.There’s a lot less profit in running shoes and Speedos than there is in pharmaceuticals.

I think we should also ask what America’s love affair with psychotropic medication says about the state of  psychotherapy.

If the treatment of choice for nearly all psychiatric conditions is medication doesn't that suggest that therapists have not been doing a very good job.

True, psychiatrists always pay lip service to talk therapy. They like to say that medication should be combined with some form of conversational interaction.

Yet, by one estimate, only 10% of psychiatrists are willing to waste their time talking with their patients. Most do a cursory interview, write a prescription, and collect their fee.

I do know that in many areas of the country, psychotherapy is not available. I also know that there are more than a few different forms of therapy.

Have you noticed that most of them insist on not being judgmental.  Strangely enough, they say that they are addressing the mind, but they have no place for responsibility and judgment. That means that they are intellectually incoherent.

When it comes to making excuses for moral failings, therapy is up there with psychopharmacology.

If your mood has something to do with your problems, it might be therapeutic to try to solve your problems. If psychotherapy were willing to offer a serious alternative to medication, it might put itself back in business. For now, however, most therapy is not about solving problems. It’s about getting in touch with your feelings and assuming that your problems will then solve themselves.


David Foster said...

Somebody defined happiness as "that moment we would not trade for non-existence." Drugging and heavy drinking can offer a pretty good approximation of non-existence.

The level and type of drinking on college campuses should also be of concern. IIRC, Susan Walsh cited a study showing that campus sexual encounters usually involve a considerable level of inebriation, for both men AND women.

Seems sad to have great sex and not be able to remember it the next day....OTOH, if you're that drunk the sex probably isn't going to be all that memorable anyhow...

Katielee4211 said...

Wonferful blog. Thank-you. I learned from experience the best way to feel better, is to deal with the issues causing the problems~~~and all the emotion that goes with them. You have to feel [the pain] to heal.