Having essentially lost my 20’s in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s to depression before it became pandemic in America, I’ve watched with growing dismay as the affliction has gone from a debilitating secret to a multi-billion dollar disease de jour.
At least ten percent of Americans are on anti-depressants, including children. The leading TV newsmagazine, 60 Minutes, just did an expose in which a researcher at Harvard Medical School, Irving Kirsch, said, “people feel better when they take these drugs, but it’s largely the placebo effect. The difference between the effect of a placebo, and the effect of anti-depressants in most patients is minimal.”
Don’t tell that to the psychologists and psychiatrists that support the 11.3 billion dollar anti-depressant industry that’s grown like a monstrous fungus in the dark recesses of North American culture.
Honest scientific studies show that anti-depressants can be helpful in cases of severe depression. But even in acute depression, such as I suffered, they may not be necessary, and should be used as a last resort.
I met a woman who does counseling with the faculty at the local college. Though Chico State has one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, and the ‘town-gown’ relationship is very good in this very livable city, she reports that a significant percentage (well over 10%) of the faculty is on anti-depressants. Why?
And why have psychologists and psychiatrists become consumed with treating symptoms rather than causes? Why are so few looking into the cultural factors, when so many people are depressed? Finally, since the mind is such a powerful factor in depression, and its alleviation, why is the understanding of the mind still so primitive?
Besides the obvious economic incentive, it’s much easier to treat (and blame) the individual than it is to critique (and criticize) the culture.
The culture is like the air we breathe. And all people, wherever they live, breathe the same polluted air now, more or less. The atmosphere of America does not stay in America, and since this is by far the most dominant culture in the world, deadness and depression are spreading around the world.
Though the suffering of severe depression is needless for the most part, when you suffer from it over a period of years, especially when young, it strengthens you, if you learn. I feel lucky to be alive, much less unaddicted to anti-depressants.
I’m not talking about the mild to moderate forms of depression that characterize so much of psychiatric diagnosis and pharmaceutical profit in this dead land. I’m referring to the kind of depression in which you can’t move for days, where thoughts and emotions run hellishly amuck, and where life feels like an unending black tunnel with no light in sight.
A person who can function may be depressed, but they don’t have acute depression. Full-blown depression not only crowds out all enjoyment and positive feeling; it consumes and paralyzes you. Being down, even deeply down, over the breakup of a relationship or the loss of a job, is depressing, and can lead to depressiveness; but that’s not clinical depression.
I recognize that few severely depressed people can employ the combination of self-knowing, meditation, exercise, and research I did to understand and manage the affliction, and end the cycle of clinical depression. But I still believe that anti-depressants should only be prescribed as a last resort.
The relationship between the inner and the outer, between what one thinks/feels at a given time, and what is the actual condition of things, is blurred even during moderate depression. But if one doesn’t resort to palliatives and placebos, one is compelled to sort out what part is ‘my perceptions’ (and emotions), and what part is the way things really are.
You look at the inner and outer pernicious influences that trigger your depression. You examine your conditioning, and genetic makeup. You come to realize that doing so is the primary, lifelong task of every mature human being.
And when you do start to see the light, and grow stronger; when you walk, despite many falls, out of the dark tunnel; then you resolve, in freeing yourself of depression, to put first things first, and not waste anymore of your life.
Few people want anything to do with such spadework, and refuse to examine themselves and the culture. And the psycho-pharmaceutical industry, as it has devolved in the last 25 years, is all too happy to oblige their immediate need to feel better. After all, if the root causes of depression are too much for psychiatrists and university professors, how can I possibly address and adequately meet them?
Most people suffering from moderate depression need a competent professional to help them sort things out, and develop healthy ways of observing, thinking, and behaving. The problem is that there are so few competent therapists (only 25% by my estimate, and that may be generous). The void is being filled by ‘life-coaches,’ retreat runners, meditation teachers, etc.
Many of the rest turn to psychotropic drugs, which put people more asleep, and diminish, if not destroy the brain’s capacity for religious experiencing—that is, for directly contacting the sacredness that permeates the universe.
Learning how to quiet thought/emotion brings the peace that passes all understanding. That has become imperative not just to a spiritual life, but simply to living a healthy life.