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04 November 2005

A Social Phenomenon: Medicating the Un-Medicated

Recent headlines announce that Britain’s water system is infused with the anti-depressant, Prozac. It’s about time. I’m certain that wives and mothers of teenagers across the United Kingdom are elated. My friends and I have long thought that somebody ought to slip the stuff into our own public water system. One dear friend – who successfully threatened me into shielding her identity -- even secretly considered breaking open the little green and white capsules and sprinkling them inconspicuously over the bowls of breakfast cereal in her home. No one would know and we’d all be so much better-off. Husbands could breeze through financial pressures and office responsibilities, teenagers would gladly forego that belly-button ring hated by conservative parents and the women of America could breathe one huge estrogen-oozing sigh of relief. Not a bad idea at all.

If the truth were told, however, Britain’s water supply is scoring astronomically on the Prozac charts not because Parliament has mandated that the population be medicated, but because so many Brits are, in fact, taking the antidepressant by personal choice. The drug is then being secreted, with every flush, into the raw sewage in high enough concentrations to ultimately 'pollute’ the water table. That’s a heck of a lot of Prozac!

The statistics tell us that, in recent years, prescription of antidepressants has surged in Britain. In the decade up to 2001, overall prescriptions of antidepressants rose from nine million to 24 million a year. Current estimates of American use range between six and 30 million annually.

Believe me, I’m all for taking antidepressants in the right circumstances. In fact, Prozac was my good friend in earlier, more stressful years of my life. But the rising number of prescriptions being written also forces me to pause and question the long-term effects of mass-medicating society.

The great poets and musicians create the most beautiful language and music as a means of healing, or at least coping with, gut-wrenching turmoil, anger and longing. Visually artistic souls express their anguish through paint, clay and mortar. If we numb our artists to the struggles of life, who will sculpt the masterpieces or write the great classics and ballads? If writers are pacified into a pain-free reality, the likes of Holden Caulifeld (Catcher in the Rye) and Ponyboy (The Outsiders) might never be born. And without their voices urging us on, social change will be swept into a botoxed existence, inklings of passion veiled behind a façade of paralysis.

Great art, writing and thought rarely spring forth naturally from happy-go-lucky days filled with contentment. The winds of change are born when the status quo is so ugly that revolution itself is hungered for. When life is easy, why seek more?

Spiritual, political and social unrest need the voice of their artists to achieve change and, therefore, better society in the end. The world changed, and grew, with Thomas Paine’s inspiration of “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Patrick Henry’s battle cry, “Give me liberty or give me death!” rallied the multitudes to fight for a better cause, a better life. And, amidst her soul searching and anguish, Anne Frank’s steadfast belief in her fellow man, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart,” will challenge humanity until the end of time.

Where would we be if those voices were silenced?

Antidepressants certainly are necessary in specific circumstances, but that need must be balanced with the natural introspection and turmoil of our idealistic youth and burdened spirits. We can’t placate unrest (disguised as depression, attention disorders or other ‘conditions’) with pharmaceuticals without running the risk of a plastic-faced population that accepts the status quo without question, no matter what is spoon fed to their smiling faces.
That’s a pretty scary thought.