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Messing up your own mind

PROZAC, the American anti-depressant, may be targeted at children now that its coverage of the adult market is almost complete.

 

neurons abstractThe makers of the hugely popular pill, are seeking permission to market the drug to youngsters in peppermint and orange flavors. American doctors are increasingly turning to anti-depressants as a solution to the troubles of childhood.

Will they come in those adorable bunny shapes, or perhaps as "the little bluebird of happiness? Depression was first diagnosed as a clinical illness by the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders in 1952, about the same time research on psychoactive chemicals in the human brain began.

A drug called LSD was patented by the pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, in 1956. TIME magazine declared that this wonder drug "may actually help psychiatrists clear up mental illness."

It was also promoted as a cure for alcoholism and as an "aid in facilitating psychoanalysis." The notorious psychedelic never found its way to market, but provided a clue for researchers on the interaction between the chemicals in our brains and our perception of reality.

A particular set of amino acids, neurotransmitters (NT), which facilitate the electrical impulses from cell to cell, were isolated; one particular NT, Serotonin, seemed to be particularly important and associated with fluctuations in mood.

Eli Lilly secured patents and marketed its powerful Serotonin inducing drug, Prozac, in 1987, leading the way for related drugs (blanketly named "anti-depressants") to find mainstream acceptance in the psychiatric community. Presently, 40,000,000 U.S. citizens are being prescribed some form of an anti-depressant, for everything from Bulimia to "winter blues."

This staggering number, amounting to roughly a sixth of the adult population (and increasingly offered to overweight people and 'problem' children) is the apotheosis of an information age rationality, in many cases voluntarily embarking on a "cosmetic psychopharmacological" journey where cure may be a code for brain enhancement and Huxleyesque social control. I hesitate to add that this number is more than the amount of votes President Clinton obtained in 1992.

"The reason that more than half the prescriptions are made in the USA is because we always believe in the technical, scientific approach to solve problems in all realms. Older countries have traditional, foundation philosophies that are more inclusive of a broader moral, spiritual, and emotional world view. This is irrelevant in a nation where technology is king. " said Teresa S., Ph. D.

She continues to say that "this is the truth of medicine that there is not an easy one to one correlation between treatment and cure. " In fact, no one has actually been able explain how the mechanism works, as well as the inordinate amount of 'depression' suffered by Americans.

Inconsistencies and omissions in the testing of drugs, in the procedural O. K. 's, and international commerce, allow these new drugs to pass muster well before anyone can gauge possible long term consequences, and obviously money does a lot of the lobbying. Eli Lilly rakes in almost 2 billion dollars alone on Prozac, about half the profits in the industry. Many drugs that come to market are gambles the producers make, expecting lawsuits in their cost-benefit analysis.

The regular use of prescription drugs can sometimes lead to drug abuse, which is why you have to be prepared to deal with{mnf=off} it in case a dependence forms and threatens to takes over your life.

The lurid tales of Prozac driven violence, as well as the documented tendency to facilitate 'suicidal ideation' are not surprising, since the majority of users are bummed out to begin with; however, the privatization of health care (HMO's or managed care by name, cost cutting and cognitively-behavioristic by nature) has all but undercut other methods of treating depression.

The catch-22 the therapists find themselves in is an impressive one. Since both their referrals and payments come from HMO's, therapists are at the mercy of the provider, who increasingly recommend pills over the more expensive, and more involved analysis.

In many cases, the psychologist is directed by someone with less background in the field to recommend anti-depressants, and since each individual session requires justification, they (in a worst case scenario) may be compelled to diagnose patients who may or may not be a potential suicide. This information, in many cases, will become part of the patient's permanent record, perhaps to be revealed to prospective employers, or who knows...

synapses abstractThe dangers to the patient, in the therapeutic sense, are evident but the companion question of patient privacy, a privilege of free democratic societies, is yet another step on the road to techno-totalitarianism. Indeed the already eroded trust between client and therapist is compromised. To its' credit, many folks have attributed the righting of an otherwise miserable existence to Prozac and related SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

The documentation of these successes and the militant defence of the drugs by users, has overwhelmed most criticism, in short, we are barrelling ahead. The science behind the SSRI's is solid in creating effects, if not on solving causes, in cases such as children of alcoholics who have naturally low serotonin, help provide an excellent therapeutic tool.

"SSRI's are no threat to therapy (in practice) but they are prescribed in a diagnostic fashion. 'We will see if you have this chemical problem by prescribing the medication. ' The problem is the client then does not know if his improvement is due to therapy or medication and is afraid to give up either," explains Teresa S.

Some proponents contend that taking SSRI's is similar to the function of insulin for a diabetic, in which the patient still needs to learn to control both eating and lifestyle upon treatment. The diabetic takes insulin to live. Are anti-depressants a life long treatment?

Prozac disrupts serotonin and dopamine; two of the most involved NTs in frontal lobe function - that part of the brain which controls empathy. The question begs, will patients be "cured" by Prozac rather than addressing, in psychotherapy, circumstances which may lead to an understanding of their feelings of anxiety, shame, guilt, injustice, remorse, etc?

A side effect of anti-depressant use is a de-sensitivity to others around you. The standard reasoning for their success is that it helps these patients to focus on their selves instead of on the needs of those around them.

This is a potentially dangerous strategy for Americans, in particular, estranged as they are from the rest of the world; from their own government; from themselves (the chronic identity crisis); as well as from history. Perhaps the information age is simply too tough on the soul.

An underlying pessimism (from the cynical rich to those meek waiting to inherit the earth; when it's no longer of any value of course) and a fantasy of transcendence (endemic idolatry, aliens saving us, and the biosphere project, for example) dominates the American subconscious.

SSRIs are a perfect fit when no one really wants to reflect on why they can be called "Prozac Nation. " Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the book so entitled. "The trouble is the big-picture problems that have got so many people down are more or less insoluble... So it seems fairly reasonable to anesthetize ourselves in the best possible way. Just as our parents quieted us when we were noisy by putting ourselves in front of the television set, maybe we're now learning to quiet our adult noise with Prozac."

Three years from the date we've set to lower global atmospheric pollution (and no where near the target), Americans have just begun to admit, freely, that global warming exists.

A reality check, or a will to bear their share of responsibility does not appear forthcoming. The war against 'depression' is in many respects a war against who we are. The work of pain-driven artists like Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and countless others, serves as a reflection on our selves and as signposts in our subconscious about the world we've created. (Call it 'low' serotonin art.)

Until we look into the root and cause of contemporary anxiety and fear, depression will remain a mystery; a problem to be solved like diabetes (which makes about as much sense as equating the meaning of this article with electrical impulses in my laptop). Just as it is not understood why blocking the re-uptake of the NT serotonin ameliorates depression, over-sensitivity to rejection, anxiety, and a host of other conditions. Ecstasy anyone?

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