Tuesday, April 28, 2009

a tenuous hold on happiness

My children say the strangest things. Their comments on American life after growing up in Italy are at times funny, often startling. My older son commented the other day about how Americans have a pill for everything, even his 9th grade friends. If they have a headache, they take an Advil. If they have a cold, they take NyQuil. If they have an allergy, they take an antihistamine. Immediately. No waiting it out. No putting up with anything.

His comment made me think of this other feeling I have, somehow similar yet much more troubling. How many people in the United States take antidepressants? How many people actually need these? The United States is the most over prescribed, over medicated nation in the world. Do you ever wonder what the infamous "war on drugs" really means? What drugs are the enemy? What drugs are the norm? Why do Americans seem to have such a tenuous hold on happiness? Why are they so depressed? Why are they so eager to take a pill? Why are doctors so eager to prescribe them? Why are Americans so sad? Or are they? Is maybe just being alive synonymous with being depressed? Why do some people make it through devastating life situations and other sink in a quagmire of daily living?
From a fascinating CNN news story, reporting that the CDC rates antidepressants as the most prescribed drug in the US:

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Dr. Ronald Dworkin tells the story of a woman who didn't like the way her husband was handling the family finances. She wanted to start keeping the books herself but didn't want to insult her husband. The doctor suggested she try an antidepressant to make herself feel better.
She got the antidepressant, and she did feel better, said Dr. Dworkin, a Maryland anesthesiologist and senior fellow at Washington's Hudson Institute, who told the story in his book "Artificial Unhappiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class." But in the meantime, Dworkin says, the woman's husband led the family into financial ruin.
"Doctors are now medicating unhappiness," said Dworkin. "Too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives."
For Dworkin, the proof is in the statistics. According to a government study, antidepressants have become the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. They're prescribed more than drugs to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, or headaches.

One of my younger son's more rambunctious friends spent the night at our house the other night. He suddenly exclaimed "Oh no! I forgot my chill pills!" I of course asked him what he meant, and he explained that the doctor had prescribed him chill pills. So he could calm down.
I do not know what pills he takes. I do not know why he takes them. But I just couldn't help it... chill pills. He said it in such a cavalier way. Like popping a Prozac.
Food for thought.


Jennifer said...

I notice this too everytime we go back!

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Acedog said...

As a alcohol and drug counselor I come up against this cultural expectation frequently; "I want to feel better, different, calmer, etc. and I want to feel it NOW." We are impatient and impeteous. We go for the immediate and have forgotten about long term gain.

anno said...

When my daughter was in first grade she caught her first case of strep. Our physician/witch doctor advised complete bed rest for ten days, arguing that it would help build her immunity-- a real challenge, both for a 6-year-old and for a mother who kept hearing (from friends and school authorities), "why don't you give her the antibiotic? she'll be back in school the next day." Ten days later, she tested negative for strep, and never caught it again. Instructive for both of us. I think we do go for short-term relief at the long-term expense of making ourselves weaker and more susceptible to chronic illnesses.