July 04, 2011
Cowardly New World
"It doesn't guarantee salvation or it's not sufficient and it's not necessary to salvation but if it can be collaborated with and used in an intelligent way it can be an immense help to people. This sense that in spite of everything ... in spite of pain, in spite of death, in spite of horror, the universe in some mysterious sense is all right, capital A, capital R."
-Aldous Huxley, describing the therapeutic effects of an LSD experience.
When I read Brave New World by Huxley, I was pretty blown away by how on-the-money he predicted psychiatric drug use. In the book everyone is always taking pills. Everyone takes them daily just to 'feel good' and even death is managed entirely through pharmaceuticals- everyone takes the same pills to induce a quick, painless decline and death. Pretty astute, right?
Predictably, the books plot centers around a guy who stops taking the feel-good pills and sees the horror of society, or some such nonsense. A swing and a miss.
What Huxley couldn't have predicted(or didn't, anyway) is that the world 2.0, the information age, is a wild mess. While it's true that the pharmaceutical industry produces tons of feel-good pills, and that the United States is the most prescribed-to nation on earth(followed up by every other developed country), the government still isn't issuing us pills yet.
I'm tempted to say something like 'Well with big pharma and all the advertisement and lobbying, it's not too far off...' but that's not true. Psychiatric drugs are a product just like cigarettes- you can get a lot of people to start with enough billboards, and people will get hooked, but there was never a time when everyone smoked. There will never be a time when everyone is on Antidepressants and Anti-anxiety meds. But goddamn, a lot of people are on them.
I've never had the nerve to think I was depressed. Even after tragedy and crisis I can only own up to feeling 'really bummed out'. Every thinking person - I should think- has these periods of being really bummed out. That is a distinct phenomenon from major depression. Since the beginning of western thought, certain individuals have been noticed as being extremely bummed out. The kind of bummed out that starves itself to death. The distinction is made in modern psychiatry between those 2, but medication is suggested for both. Even if you have 'low mood, but it's not that bad,' you might have one of many atypical depressions. And still there's medication for it.
If someone believes they're depressed, seeks help, a doctor suggests medication, they take it, and a pharmaceutical rep gets a huge kickback, I really can't fault anyone. They're entitled to try medication, and no one made them.
People are only as good as what they know. Many people don't know pet ownership lowers lifetime depression rates, exercise shows about as good efficacy as medication, tons of weird drugs have antidepressant effects and no effect on serotonin receptors (like Scopolamine and Ketamine), and happiness isn't all it's cracked up to be anyway. The link between depression and suicide is shaky- Only 60% of suicides in the U.S. were confirmed depressed people, and currently popular medication has a negligible or negative effect on suicide risk.
I have the sneaking suspicion that there will never be a universal happy pill. Not only is the working theory of depression wrong; it could never be right, and there could never be one that's right. The diversity of neurobiological condition, psychiatric condition, and the wide range of effects of all drugs in humans makes 'the pill that fixes everything' impossible, forever. The psychiatric pharmaceutical industry isn't making medicine. They just have a monopoly on available drugs.
The anti-psychiatry movement in the 1970's famously campaigned that 'there's no such thing as a chemical imbalance'. They were wrong. Everyone is chemically imbalanced. Just try to get along with yourself. Getting drunk or high might help.