Your Bright Baby Blues

Even before the Aurora theater shootings last July, I had an interest in mass shootings that have sadly become a part of our American culture in the last 25 years or so. Why are they happening – is there something in the water causing some new form of derangement? Seriously, what is clear to me is that the frequency of these crimes are on the rise. Recently having become aware of the debate on the safety of using psychotropic drugs for treating mental illness I have wondered about the relationship, if any, they have to this type of violence. There is some great reading out there on mental illness and particularly depression and what we are doing about it in our techno-crazed culture, but the book that gave me the most insight was Manufacturing Depression, by Gary Greenberg.

It was helpful to learn from other books the specific stories of people who have suffered greatly and even lost their lives while being prescribed psychotropics. It helps to read about the connections between the FDA who are in charge of approving the safety of these drugs, and the pharmaceutical corporations that manufacture and profit from them. But Gary Greenberg, a psychotherapist who is also a life-long sufferer of depression does a great job telling the story from a variety of perspectives, including his own. While he doesn’t believe that the drugs used to treat depression are as effective as the claims made by the manufacturers, he does not begrudge anyone for using them or their claims that they work.

He does however take issue with the insistence that depression is a biological illness. Calling depression an illness mistakes the symptoms for a disease and imposes on you the patient, an identity of sickness placing you at the mercy of someone other than you for the cure. Only in the case of psychotropics, the drugs are not a cure but more like insulin, a life-long medication. In other words, if you buy into the idea that you need medication for your depression because it is an illness, you may convince yourself that it’s the only cure. But surely it’s not as statistics show that for any given treatment for depression, there’s about a 50% rate of relief of symptoms.

manufact depression“Pessimism can be an ally at a time of crisis, and I think we’re living in one right now. Regardless of whether or not the drugs work, to call pessimism the symptom of an illness and then to turn our discontents over to the medical industry is to surrender perhaps the most important portion of our autonomy: the ability to look around and say, as Job might have said, “This is outrageous. Something must be done.”

After telling his personal story of his experience with depression, which included participating in a double-blind research test for approval and marketing of an anti-depressant, he concludes the book by saying:

“Call your sorrow a disease or don’t. Take drugs or don’t. See a therapist or don’t. But whatever you do, when life drives you to your knees, which it is bound to do, which maybe it is meant to do, don’t settle for being sick in the brain. Remember that’s just a story. You can tell your own story about your discontents, and my guess is that it will be better than the one that the depression doctors have manufactured.”

I like this book because there’s no attempt to dogmatically conclude that all psychotropic use is harmful, because for some people it isn’t. But, in some cases it most definitely is and tragically so. It is important to acknowledge that people experience different results from taking them, although often times the doctors prescribing them do not caution patients enough as to the dangers. When people do experience bad reactions they are often mistaken for symptoms of the persons “illness,” instead of effects from the drugs themselves.

Having gone through some dark periods in life myself, and having taken an antidepressant reluctantly for a couple of months, I feel personally invested too. During a dark period of time in the course of a two year therapy my therapist encouraged me to take an antidepressant. Although it made me feel less…well, much less, it seemed to leave me feeling too flat and emotionally numb. Not particularly enjoying the lack of feelings I told my therapist that even if they were painful, I’d rather have my feelings back, thank you so much.

What I gained in the course of therapy was the ability to re-tell to myself the story of my life. Some spell that I had been living under was lifted. Not easily of course. It took a lot of time and courage to challenge the way that I had come to see myself and others, and to accept that many of my conclusions about past events, other people and my unhappiness were false. Perhaps for some people, and certainly for the insurance industry, this sort of treatment is too costly. At the time, I was fortunate to be able to pay my way to a point of making enough peace with myself and a better way to be in the life I have been given.

I suppose my wish for anyone suffering in or from the diseases of our modern culture, who might prefer the quick fix, the pill, the surgery, the fast food, would be to know what the options are and beware of their consequences.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional and you shouldn’t take anything here for more than it might be worth, deemed by an expert, which of course, I am not. And except for quotations, all thoughts and ideas and misunderstandings are solely my fault.

Thank you Jackson Browne for the theme song;

“It’s so hard to come by
that feeling of peace
(and this friend of mine said)
Close your eyes
and try a few of these
I thought I was flying like a bird,
so far above my sorrow,
but when I looked down
I was standing on my knees.”

Go Ask Alice

Since the recent shootings in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT, I have been trying to understand why in the last 25 years or so we are seeing an increase in the numbers of mass shootings in schools, malls, churches, workplaces and other public spaces. In the popular media there are several issues gaining traction in response to these tragedies; notably gun control and security. But focusing on the issue of more gun control legislation or an increase in building security of public places, suggests that we don’t necessarily want to look at the possibility of other causes for the increase in these types of tragedies. Do advances in gun technology or – as has also been suggested, a craving for instant notoriety serve as sufficient motivating factors to explain an increase in the frequency of these tragedies?

Perhaps typifying the corruption found in our current economic system of crony capitalism,  connecting and publicizing  the perpetrators to their known use of psychotropic drugs (aka, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and anti-mania drugs) are under-reported in the media. Yet the use of prescription drugs with their documented list of harmful and sometimes deadly side-effects on users – along with attempts by the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA to underestimate their harm or cover them up entirely, should be considered when examining the motives of the perpetrators in any of the mass shootings.

Pharmaceutical companies enjoy an elevated status from our healthcare providers and protection from the media as both parties continue to make billions off of suggestive and easily marketable common human conditions such as anxiety, depression and mood disorders. How many television commercials do we endure telling us to “ask our doctor about…” any of the many chemical concoctions now available to fix everything from an ailing sex-drive to sleeplessness to metabolic problems, many of which are caused by our lifestyles, or are inevitable consequences of aging?

We have been repeatedly warned that marijuana use may be addictive, lead to a desire for stronger drugs and is a public safety hazard. As studies show, those very same dangers are proven to exist with all psychotropics. Not every individual is at risk, but the same holds true for marijuana users. So, how is it that we should trust the experts who warn us against the harm in marijuana use yet still believe in the safety of prescription drugs that carry similar risks? To be sure, many prescription drug deaths are from pain killers. These deaths are just as tragic, and understandably can occur when someone with chronic pain accidentally overdoses.

Studies have found that many of the psychotropics tested against a placebo are no more effective in treating the so-called illnesses they claim to treat. And if the drugs caused little harm, who would care? But most of these drugs can and do cause harm and there’s no way to predict who will be adversely affected, although children seem to be at greater risk.

You may know someone who has been helped by these drugs, or perhaps you yourself have benefited by their use. My aim here is not to challenge the veracity of your experience but to challenge the idea that continued use always equals a positive outcome, and that therefore the use of psychotropics is safe. It is not reasonable to conclude that drugs are safe just because the healthcare industry promotes their use. Your doctor may be well meaning, but s/he may be trusting the pharmaceutical companies because s/he thinks they are the experts. Many doctors do not have degrees in pharmacology.

I am no doctor or professional and there is plenty of information available on the use of psychotropics on the internet. My hope is that as the number of Americans using psychotropics continues to rise, the pharmaceutical companies will be challenged by every incident of psychotropic use that harms someone and that the Experts, calling the shots in our culture, including those who are infiltrating public schools with screening programs will come under greater scrutiny for their ties with the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA and the industry’s desire to expand their profits and legitimacy in spite of the harm they sometimes cause.

For further study:

Thank you Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane for the post theme song:

“When logic and proportion
Have fallen SLOPPY dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s LOST her head
Remember what the dormouse said

Feed your head” Grace Slick