OyChicago blog

Are Americans over medicated?

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11/18/2011

One of my favorite shows on TV is House, MD. I find entertainment and comfort in its formulaic medical mystery plot which includes a side story that reveals a personal side to one or more of the characters. My boyfriend ridicules the show and says that anyone could make five guesses as how to treat someone medically, and eventually get it right.

Dr. House treats without waiting or even testing for medical problems. He and his team listen to a list of symptoms and then diagnose and treat some obscure illness before another symptom emerges that refutes the previous theory. Dr. House himself is a recovering addict and demonstrates sociopathic behaviors.

I thought of Dr. House when the Wall Street Journal published a report about the pretty drastic spread of Americans taking psychiatric drugs including a sharp rise in antipsychotics and ADHD medications.

If the laws of supply and demand apply to psychiatric medication, the increase would be due to the medication being helpful. You wouldn’t take ibuprofen unless it helped your pain. The same would seem to be true for psychiatric medication.

But here is the question that is harder to answer.

Why are Americans so depressed? Why are we obsese? Why are we anxious? Why are we OCD? Are these issues more prevalent today than ever in history, and what happens when these medications, as they may, stop working?

Previous generations had to deal with their siblings dying from the flu and childbirth. They starved during the Great Depression. They were drafted into foreign wars.

They didn’t have TIVO.

Our lives are considerably easier, yet overall we are more depressed and anxious.

Perhaps unlike our great or great-great grandparents, our expectations for life are just too high. They rejoiced in penicillin and a good meal. According to Buddhism, the extinction of desire is Nirvana. If we want less would we eat less, obsess less, be less disappointed?

I know it’s not so simple. The brain is a complicated place. It just scares me that we focus so much on the cure when our understanding of the causes is so much less certain.

It’s like Dr. House is treating us for psychiatric problems, and if you’ve ever watched the show, that can’t be good public policy.

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