When I was fifteen, my friend's father passed away. Upon entering her house, I recall being told that both she and her grieving mother were "indisposed" because the doctor (those were the days when doctors still made house calls) had "given them a little something to calm them down." I didn't understand why it wasn't okay to cry when someone you loved deeply died suddenly and unexpectedly and, frankly, I still don't.
Fast-forwarding to my college days, I'm reminded of times when one friend or another would laugh about being thrown out of a bar. Not so for me. I got tossed out of a doctor's office. Life was a bit dicey for a while and this man's best advice was for me to start taking Valium. I knew very little about Valium at the time, but I'd heard stories, and what I'd heard, I didn't like. I expressed my concerns.
"I'm not so sure I want to do that," I began, feeling wary.
His eyes went cold. "If you're not going to do what I say, then why did you bother coming to me?"
I really didn't want to fight with him. I certainly had never expected to challenge someone twice my age who was wearing a white coat and had a wall-full of credentials.
I shrugged and, hearing myself sound like Dorothy-the-meek-and-small, said, "But I've heard that stuff is addictive."
"That's absolutely ridiculous!" he answered, slapping his prescription pad on the counter and glaring at me as if I'd just cast aspersions on the sexual proclivities of his mother, "I've got patients that have been on Valium for years!"
I wonder if he ever caught the irony of his declaration? I'll never know. He threw me out.
Over the years, the trend has mutated from medicating the most extreme emotional disturbances to anesthetizing anyone who is not skipping down the street, whistling a happy tune. And in case you're blissfully unaware of how miserable your life truly is, just keep your eye on your television set -- sooner or later you're going to see an advertisement which will point it out for you.
Depressed? Have a pill. Feeling achy? Have another. Worried about something? Smoking too much? Hate your job? In love with your boss's wife? Insufficient funds in your checking account? We've got pills for all that, too. And now -- among the latest and greatest -- feeling shy. Feeling shy? When exactly did social awkwardness become a disease?
Concerned about any of that? It gets worse. Do you have a child who's energetic or exuberant? Well you'd best be sure he doesn't act like a normal, growing kid in school because if he does -- and if he lives in America -- he's now 700 times more likely than he would have been just twenty years ago to be diagnosed -- by his teacher, no less! -- as hyperactive and consequently given Ritalin. And you, Johnny's mom or dad, if you refuse the drug on Johnny's behalf, could find yourself facing charges -- and possibly even the loss of your parental rights -- from the local authorities.
These are not simply scare tactics; this happened to a friend of mine in Florida. He fought tooth and nail and finally prevailed, but at what cost? His son was branded and traumatized -- publicly.
Does it ever occur to these "authorities" that perhaps all those little Johnnies (and Janies) are bored to distraction because their classes are not keeping up with them? Or that, as immature human children whose physiological development requires a certain amount of physical exertion, perhaps they need a break out-of-doors so they can burn off some energy? When's the last time someone medicated a foal or a puppy simply because it needed to run? The young, no matter what they are, have short attention spans and a need to move. And there's nothing anyone's going to do to change that ... or is there??
"Finding Emmaus", published in October of 2009, examines, among other things, the deliberate and systematic inappropriate overmedication of millions of people the world over for no reason other than the enormous profit it generates. Though technically classified as fiction, because the book is historically and factually accurate, I felt compelled to learn everything I could about bipolar disorder. That's when I stumbled upon what goes on between the pharmaceutical industry and the US Food and Drug Administration.
Pouring through reams of personal accounts, congressional testimony, books, blogs, magazine articles and medical journals and learning what I did, did something to me. There is no single adjective which adequately describes what I felt. To say that I was "horrified" would be like saying "Noah ran into a bit of weather." I'm 57 years old and in all that time I have never come across anything that has gripped me so powerfully as what I learned about psychotropic drugs, the collusion between the pharmaceutical industry and the FDA and their callous indifference to the suffering they cause.
In the year 2004, there were 244.3 million prescriptions written for psychotropic drugs in America. I'm talking about new prescriptions only, not refills. In that same year the entire US population was 293 million. Think about that. Now think about this: in that same year, there were only about 25 million adults "diagnosed" (and I use that word lightly because there is no definitive diagnosis) with a mental disorder "requiring" (another term I use lightly) the administration of a psychotropic drug. You don't need to be a Rhodes Scholar -- you don't even have to be a ten-year-old with a number two pencil -- to see that there's something terribly wrong with those statistics.
Utilizing those same figures, you would have to conclude that either 80% of the all people you've met so far in your entire life are on psychotropic drugs, or doctors are having to continually write new prescriptions for the 25 million because the previous prescription(s) did not work.
Choose door number two -- trust me. Better yet, don't take my word for it. Go to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website and read for yourself how nearly 100% of the time, people taking these drugs suffer side effects, some hideous, some permanent, while approximately 70-80% of the time, those same drugs have no more effect on the "condition" they are meant to be treating than a placebo does.
But don't despair -- all is not lost. There are amazing, committed people out there, such as Dr. Peter Breggin (a man whom I am proud to call associate and dear friend), Dr. Marcia Angell (Senior Lecturer at Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine), filmmaker Kevin P. Miller, author/spokesperson Gwen Olsen, and author/professor Christopher Lane PhD working overtime to make changes, to educate the public and to save lives. The best thing you can do right now -- for you as well as for everyone you love -- is educate yourself.
Pamela S. K. Glasner is an author, historian, public speaker and social advocate. Her website is www.lodestarre.com . She can also be found on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/2cn8bpo . Ms. Glasner is scheduled to be a featured speaker at Dr. Peter Breggin's national conference for The Center for The Study of Empathic Therapy in Syracuse, New York, to be held April 8-10, 2011.