Saturday, September 17, 2011

"happy" pills: are they magical or empty?

Gary Greenberg’s Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History Behind a Modern Disease explains why we have plenty of reasons to question whether or not depression is actually a disease.  Greenberg, a practicing psychotherapist who has experienced depression himself, uncovers how it came to be called a disease, as well as the events—including the pharmaceutical companies’ clever and deceitful advertising—leading up to the inflow of antidepressants.  It’s a history of “accident and misunderstanding and overreaching, of unwarranted leaps of logic and wishful thinking and the misapplication of scientific rhetoric, of bad faith and greed.”

flickr Creative Commons: farmer dodd
With twenty pages of bibliography, it’s clear Greenberg has researched thoroughly.  His work touches on the truth that science, though helpful in many ways, is flawed.  He emphasizes that when life pummels us down to the very bottom, we don’t have to accept that we’ve got sick brains.  We don’t have to hand our pessimism and anguish over to the medical industry.  We can instead take the opportunity to explore and develop our life stories.  We can let our suffering indicate our deepest spiritual yearnings, we can cry to God, we can search for the way to live.

This isn’t to say it’s wrong to take medication when you’re depressed.  Antidepressants are effective some of the time for some people.  But, as Greenberg notes, in trials for antidepressants, the placebo effect beats the actual drugs.  “A total of seventy-four trials have been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for the twelve leading antidepressants.  Of those trials, only thirty-eight showed an advantage of drug over placebo.  That advantage, when it is there at all, is small.”  Also, a look at other clinical trials shows "that 80 percent of the effect of the antidepressants is due to placebo effects."

Faith in medication may help temporarily, but it doesn’t do anything to enlighten us or fill the deepest caverns within us that demand meaning and completion.  Furthermore, as Greenberg mentions, just because an antidepressant makes a person feel better doesn’t mean there was a chemical problem in the first place.  It only explains how the drug influences the chemicals already there.  For some people, it’s not important.  For them, all that matters is to feel better as soon as possible.  That’s okay, although I’ll be honest in saying I think it’d be much more worthwhile to get at the heart of things—to seek relief through honesty, by examining experiences and thought processes with a counselor or trusted friend—even if it hurts.

If you're ready for an intellectual challenge, I highly recommend this book (you can see more about it here).  In my opinion, the most important point from it is that we mustn’t let the medical industry dictate to us we are merely dysfunctional blobs of matter that can be fixed by science.  We are so much more than that.  It's true that all of us are dysfunctional to some extent, but we’re also mysteriously and wonderfully human, and we each have a story to tell.  Depression, although black and infernal at the time, ultimately serves to improve us, bringing us wisdom and greater freedom than we ever had before.  This is what I’ve experienced because I was open and brutally honest in emails to a loving, trustworthy friend while I suffered. 

What are your thoughts on this?  Have you ever been helped or healed by antidepressants?  Or, on the flip side, have antidepressants caused you more problems than not?  I know it's a difficult subject, but I’d love to hear from you.

Also, you might be interested in this post.

Monday, September 12, 2011

so I notice

To us something may seem like the smallest of troubles, but it could have a spiritual significance beyond comprehension, deep below the surface.

God, forgive me for the times I've disregarded another person's tragedy because I thought it too small.  Awaken my heart so I notice when someone hurts, and give me Your grace to offer comfort.

flickr Creative Commons: Brandon Christopher Warren