The over-prescription of antidepressants seems to us to be one of the three or four major areas of prescription drug abuse in contemporary America. While our psychology assures us that depression is a matter of neurons and dopamine receptors, drugs like Zoloft and Xanax and Prozac, “tricyclics” and MAO inhibitors, SSRI’s and all sorts of sides seem to us to be routinely prescribed for for things like teen depressions and the sorrows that are a part of human life. While there may indeed sometimes be a wholly neurological cause, say, to a flood of emotion such as fear or sorrow, sometime the human cause is evident. Neurology seems unable to make a distinction between the psycho-genic and the somato-genic causes of various maladies. Hence, it may be worthwhile to consider some points about depression from outside the medical science.
What if depression is some times psycho-hygienic, working to maintain some general flush or health about the soul? Tears clear the eyes. According to one great psychologist, un-degreed master of common sense, depression has a psychological function: it aims at change. Something is not right. Sometimes the down side is up, and then it is time to see problems, so we might think of corrections. Depression may may occur when something is dying off, so that something new can emerge. Some problems are not resolved, but one can simply do something else, and even let a whole new world emerge. Taking a walk is a well known remedy for common depression. Physical exercise is known to crank the metabolism, refreshing the dopamine receptors. To clean one’s house or room is also a good symbolic activity.
If depression is psycho-hygienic, then the misuse of antidepressants may for example lead to un-dealt with built up rage. The prescription of anti-depressants has coincided with the unexplained increase in public shootings that have become a part of American culture. Something clearly has changed in American society in the past few decades. Has the possibility been studied that there might be a link, if difficulties with, as they say, anger management, are a known side effect? And why, of all the money devoted through grants for studies, has this not yet been much studied? Again, our position is that because of the unknown side effects, these drugs should be uses as little as possible. Presently, it seems to us, incentives are given to use them as much as possible.
It is because our psychological science does not know what it is doing that these drugs should be used as little as possible. The practice is admittedly experimental, sometimes trying one thing and then if that does not work another. The theory of interfering with dopamine receptors seems to have about as much science behind it as the practice of shock treatment: scramble the brains, and we’ll see if the problem, or “problem behavior” does not go away. Not that such things do not sometimes work, so that they are even chosen by some patients. But the practice is not based on knowledge, and so we should interfere as little as possible, rather than, like an auto mechanic, as much as possible.
There had been a stunning error of common sense in the practice back in the seventies, when drugs susceptible of toxic overdose were prescribed too often. There has been a move toward the less toxic in recent years. But the obvious danger that those depressed might intentionally overdose was ignored. Nick Drake was a great musician of the late sixties and early seventies. He was very sad, in part because his music was not widely received, though it was well received by the other musicians. He was prescribed a toxic antidepressant, and no one knows whether his overdose was intentional or accidental. He has three albums, all very good, though it takes a while to hear him.
In light of the routine use of toxic medicines to treat depression, it is strange that Marijuana is not officially considered an anti-depressant, and a possible replacement for worse things. So one sees a natural right to herbal simples where no commerce, and no one else’s rights are even involved. Alcohol is both toxic and addictive, and yet a beer in the evening is a well known home remedy for the stress of the work day, and a drenching drunk for blows of sorrow like the loss of love. Like George Carlin notices, when one has a hangover, his priorities get readjusted: (“I don’t care about my shoes!). Despite the obligation to regulate the sale of snake oils and toxic medicines, aspirin, made from willow bark, could hardly be criminalized. Is psychiatry and the industry serious about acting, like Hippocrates, with the intention to cure, and do no harm?
In the psycho-hygienic function of depression, there is a churning of the soul. Jung too writes of how the “Unconscious” produces contents intended to “compensate” the conscious mind, for example in a one-sided attitude. For some, dreams can provide a remedy for despair, and for some too, poetry, song and the liberal arts. The emptiness of the soul is the same for all humans, because it is intended to receive knowledge. There are some very sad truths in life, and so there is a kind of depression common to all humans, and philosophic characters are known for “melancholy.”
One of the great mysteries is cause. The matter and motion reduction of cause cannot explain what anything is or what it is for. Hence Aristotle, one of the great Socratic philosophers, described things in terms of four causes, the better two of which are rejected by modern science, in favor of the more scientific explanations in terms of neurons. So Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedo, caricatures the natural philosophers as being like those who would explain the cause of his remaining in prison by reference to his legs, the muscles and the tendons, being bent there on the bench in a certain manner. So let us ask the psychiatrists, what is the cause of Socrates remaining in prison?
In these pages on Psychology, we will devote ourselves to a new king of fusion between Jungian psychology and the classical Socratic study of the soul, which, we argue, can provide the basis for a new psychology, though not, however, the authority to set a career on prescribing drugs. When Socrates turned from the pre-Socratic study of nature to the study of the human things, a new kind of the study of man and nature emerged. In our own terms, we can repeat the Socratic turn, in answer to the contemporary crisis at the basis of modern psychology and psychiatry.
St. Francis would pray to be more concerned with others than himself. Random acts of kindness or concern for the sorrows of those around us take us out of ourselves, so that soon, like Mother Theresa, we are not concerned if we are thin and short! Sometimes the down side is up, and the glass is half full. We are in truth, and in general, lucky to have the astonishing opportunity to be here at all, between the two eternities of the future and the past.
One final note: the word love does not occur in the 1998 textbook of abnormal psychology. Neither does repentance, forgiveness, or mercy, and yet it is a pretty good book on the science at the basis of the healing of the soul.