Mental Health

The Great American Pill Party

November 19, 2011

Multiple Pages
The Great American Pill Party

A report released Wednesday says that in 2010, one in five Americans took medication to relieve conditions broadly described as mental disorders. Such medications include antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, pills for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and good ol’ American antipsychotics.

If you sprinkle the billions of painkillers on top of the mix—it’s said that there were enough painkillers prescribed last year to keep every adult American feelin’ no pain for a solid month—you have a public landfill’s worth of legally prescribed mind-altering substances.

That’s a lot of pills, possibly a lot of crazy Americans, and maybe even too much of both.

In the USA over the past dozen years:

• Sales of prescription painkillers roughly tripled.

• The number of deaths from prescription painkillers more than tripled, killing more people than heroin and cocaine combined and accounting for three-quarters of all drug overdoses. The number of annual deaths from prescription painkillers is nearly as high as the number of homicides.

• Prescriptions (read: “legal meth”) for ADHD conditions nearly tripled among women aged 20 to 44.

• Prescriptions for atypical antipsychotics have more than tripled among adults aged 20 to 54.

• The number of Americans classified as disabled due to mental illness has more than doubled.

• Prescriptions for antidepressants rose so much, it’s depressing. In 2005, antidepressants became the most-prescribed drug in the USA.

“In 2005, antidepressants became the most-prescribed drug in the USA.”

Over the past generation, huge swaths of the public have been softly lulled into becoming compliant, dependent, mush-brained pill zombies. This phenomenon, where people on psych meds started popping up everywhere like mushrooms in a barren field, was enabled by several landmark events:

• The expansion of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in the 1970s that opened the legal and financial floodgates for a similar expansion of the pharmaceutical industry.

• The American Psychiatric Association’s invention of the concept of ADHD in 1987.

• The FDA’s 1997 decision to allow TV ads for prescription drugs.

• Increased payments funneled from pharmaceutical companies to psychiatrists.

• An ever-growing clinical definition of what constitutes “mental illness” to the point where what was once deemed mere shyness is recategorized as “social anxiety disorder.”

• A population that has become increasingly anxious, bored, depressed, and aimless.

These days, it seems as if everyone and their mother is on Celexa, Zyprexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Cymbalta, Sinequan, Abilify, Desyrel, and Lunesta—pills which could also be the names of new cars or black women. As if it were the Holy Eucharist, communicants are dutifully gobbling their SSRIs, SSREs, SNRIs, SARIs, NDRAs, NRIs, NDRIs, TCAs, TeCAs, and MAOIs.

Side effects may include: Fever, chills, runny nose, drowsiness, dizziness, upset stomach, dry mouth, fainting, vomiting, hives, increased sweating, unusual swelling, unusual bruising, difficulty breathing, insomnia, impaired coordination, blurred vision, vivid nightmares, blistered and peeling skin, diarrhea, constipation, black or bloody stools, overactive bladder, severe headaches, severe ringing in the ears, severe hair loss, severe weight loss, severe weight gain, loss of sexual desire, loss of sexual ability, irreversible memory loss, hallucinations, panic attacks, hyper-aggressiveness, lung damage, liver damage, permanent brain damage, chest pain, upper-GI bleeding, gynecological bleeding, suicidal thoughts, suicidal attempts, successfully completed suicides, violent outbursts, disfiguring tics, seizures, heart attacks, stroke, and sudden death.

Oh—and sometimes antidepressants can make you more depressed.

But mostly they’re safe.

After all, a doctor prescribes them, right? You can go to a shabby city street corner and buy heroin or crystal meth, or you can go to your family practitioner and get a scrip for OxyContin or Adderall. The latter route is definitely safer, so much that it probably engenders a dangerously false sense of security amid the countless Americans who have no idea what to do with their emotional pain. Even if you get addicted, it’s all perfectly legal and therefore is probably not even a sin.

Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski wrote of “a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy, then gives them drugs to take away their unhappiness….In effect, antidepressants are a means of modifying an individual’s internal state in such a way as to enable him to tolerate social conditions that he would otherwise find intolerable.”

A Zoloft TV commercial from a few years ago showed a sad-faced little bubble moping along under a dark cloud until it gulps down some Zoloft, the cloud evaporates, and the now-happy bubble bounces along with its cheerfully chirping bluebird friend. There was a soft, lobotomizing totalitarianism to the image that evoked an utterly passive and defeated nation eagerly gobbling what are basically pills to counteract modern reality’s grim, everlasting hangover.

There is no area of medicine less scientific and more abuse-prone than the study and treatment of the human mind. One thinks of Soviet doctors glaring behind face masks and wielding huge dripping syringes to stab people who don’t think correctly. Control over minds is the essence of political power.

Psychiatric medications are like welfare assistance for the mind: They seem to provide short-term benefits but destroy the self and render one placidly dependent upon higher, presumably wiser powers.

But it’s best not to be so paranoid, to just relax and let your meds work like tiny little shiny knives on your brain. If you think anything seems shady about this sudden explosion of pills, well, they’ll soon have a name for that particular mental disorder. They’ll have a pill for it, too.


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