Not Cease from Exploration

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

America's "Pill" Society

"I want it all and I want it now"
- Queen/I Want It All


Funny, but sometimes when I think about American society, one of the first things that comes to mind is a song by Queen, a UK band. We really do want it all, and we really do want it now.

No where does this play out more vividly than in the area of medicine. I'm currently reading a book by Dr Dean Edell called Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Healthiness, and one of the underlying themes is that when it comes to health, we are always looking for that quick, painless fix.

Weight loss? We want a pill that pill made from an exotic African plant that will allow us to eat whatever we want and drop pounds without exercising.

Hair loss? We are looking for that magic elixir that, when spread on the scalp, will make us look like John Travolta, circa Saturday Night Fever.

Depression (and this is the worst example in my opinion, by the way)? We want a pill that, when taken daily, will make us happy.

For me, again, the most insidious example lies in the area of mental health, so that's where I want to ruminate on for a moment or so. In our society's zeal to help those with real mental health problems, we've managed to develop a whole host of medications that genuinely do provide some relief. However, they may just work a bit too well. What do I mean? Well consider this: what that kind of medication can do is to create a condition whereby someone who suffers from depression can have the clarity of thought such that they can being to work with someone to identify the underlying causes of their depression and hopefully develop strategies to combat it over the long term. Nice thought, hun? Now let me tell you what actually happens (and I speak as someone with family members who suffer from mental health issues): the medication makes them feel just well enough that they can now "get by", so they accept it. Now I can understand that course of action; for example, how many of us, after suffering from a very bad physical illness, want to hop out of bed as soon as we start to feel better? It's human nature to want to seize that moment. However the moment is fleeting.

What to do?

Maybe this is naive on my part, but I do have a thought. Anyone who suffers from severe mental health problems requiring extensive medication should be required, as a condition of receiving the medication, to also participate in some kind of introspective examination therapy (such talk therapy). Yes, I realize that you can not "force" someone to confront their real, underlying issues. I also realize that there is a very small group of people who suffer from conditions that have far more to do with brain chemistry than personal demons. However, we have to realize that medication is creating a crutch that many people who end up not taking personal responsibility for their own mental health as a result.

Personal responsibility, now there is a concept. Yes, I said it: we are all individually responsible for our own physical and mental health. It's not the responsibility of our doctors, or the drug companies. Yes, it is terrific that we have medication that, for example, can ease the symptoms of depression, but no, that's not enough. If the real purpose of that medication is to help people live fuller and better lives, then that purpose can only by fulfilled when the medication is combined with a dose of personal accountability.

In the end, you really can't cheat nature.

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