Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 20, 2009


Eugenia Tsao, Counterpunch - When perceived through the aseptic lens of statistics, diagnostic rates, and other seemingly objective metrics, the urgency with which companies like Pfizer exhort us to monitor ourselves for sadness or restlessness and to "ask your doctor if Zoloft is right for you" assumes a superficially unproblematic aspect. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 17 million American adults are afflicted with clinical depression each year, costing the national economy $30 billion in absenteeism, inefficiency and medical expenses. Eighty per cent of those afflicted will never seek psychiatric treatment, despite the American Psychiatric Association's regular reassurances that 80-90 per cent of chronic depression cases can be successfully treated, and 15 per cent will attempt suicide. Suicide is, indeed, the third leading cause of death among American youth aged 10 to 24.

Implicit to the drug companies' messianic promises of health, happiness and economic productivity is a spurious parable of linear scientific progress: in spite of consistently inconclusive clinical trials, new psychotropic drugs are regularly marketed as improvements on old ones, ever more specific in their targeting of neurotransmitters, ever less productive of pernicious side effects. While revelations that put the lie to the industry's feigned beneficence have belatedly crept into the mainstream press in recent years, the extent to which our lives and livelihoods have been colonized by the reductive logic of pharmaceutical intervention remains breathtaking. As Laurence Kirmayer of McGill University has suggested, the millennial rise of a "cosmetic" psychopharmaceutical industry, wherein drugs are "applied like make-up to make us look and feel good, while our existential predicaments go unanswered," raises disturbing questions about the consequences of our willingness to use chemicals to treat forms of distress that would seem to signal not biological but social maladies.

What is revealed about a society, in which drugs are touted with increasing regularity as a treatment of choice for entirely natural responses to conditions of unnatural stress? How have we been persuaded to equate such things as recalcitrant despair, adolescent rebellion and social apathy with aberrant brain chemistry and innate genetic susceptibilities rather than with the societal circumstances in which they arise? What does it mean when increasing numbers of people feel as though they have no choice but to self-medicate with dubious chemical substances in order to stay in school, stay motivated, stay employed, and stay financially solvent?. . . MORE


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