Yesterday I wrote a bit about my experience of antidepressants. For me, they’ve been useful – especially in periods when I’ve been unable to function or have felt utterly overwhelmed by feelings of despair and sadness. Saying this, I don’t think they’re a solution in themselves – and they also raise important questions about if and how we medicate our emotions.
Here’s a great guest post from David. It was originally published as a comment on The Guardian blog:
“I am very wary of the medicalisation of certain states of consciousness that we see happening with what is currently understood as depression. That is, my main worry is in prescribing drugs for what is quite possibly (and I say this tentatively) an existential or spiritual condition. Clearly, one size answer does not fit all, and ‘depression’ is a very narrow term for a very broad phenomenon, so drugs might work for some people. But does the answer to even severe depression have to be to attempt to make someone “normal” and “happy” again?
The temptation here it seems is to try and turn out well-adjusted individuals who can function well in society, which is all well and good; but what if that society is itself the cause of the maladjustment in the first place? Maladjustment in this sense would not be the bad thing we assume it to be, but in fact would be a vital warning sign.
Within an increasingly atomised society it is really not surprising that some people suffer depression; but, what I am suggesting (again, tentatively) is that this is not a sign of weakness on their part, but of a very human sensitivity to inhuman conditions: e.g. materialistic consumerism, pseudo-meritocracy, individualism, lack of community, the ‘death of God’, etc.
I’m speaking from personal experience too. When my parents divorced at 17 I experienced depression (suicidal thoughts, listlessness, overwhelming sadness, inability to concentrate on my A-levels – which I failed) for 2 years. It was obviously circumstantial, but that does not take away the fact that it was also an existential crisis that I was ill-equipped for at the time. The rest of my life has been about attempting to place what happened into some kind of wider context, without which I can feel it would simply come back and take over even 19 years later. Within that context my life is actually richer than it would have been without having gone through 2 years of depression. For me the experience has hopefully led me to an understanding of human nature that is more open to our almost infinite complexity, which is why the rush to “cure” depression troubles me, as well-intentioned as it no doubt is. This rush seems to me to be part and parcel of the imposition of the cultural narrative of aspiration, success and lifelong happiness that dominates today (and which I think contributes no end to the problem). When what allegedly constitutes a successful life is at odds with our inner being as humans one would expect a degree of resistance. This is not to valorise depression, but simply to acknowledge a debt to an experience for which I am broadly thankful, even as I wouldn’t wish it on anyone”.
I take David’s point on this. For me at least, antidepressants are useful because they help me face the issues underneath. But if we only use them to hide they can be part of the problem, rather than the solution.
What do you think?