Stress, depression and the 21st century
The article in The Independent stating the amount of people that are taking anti-depressants made quite shocking reading. Are that many people really suffering from clinical depression caused by a neurochemical imbalance? Maybe, maybe not. Unfortunately there are no conclusive tests that can be carried by clinicians to diagnose mental health problems e.g. scans or blood tests. Diagnosis is based on reports from the sufferer and observations from clinicians and friends/family. A recent report in a scientific journal demonstrated that animals exposed to high levels of stress were shown to exhibit depressed behaviours. This is not exactly a new finding and extreme stress can lead to the development of a state called 'learned helplessness', characterised by apathetic behaviour.
I often feel stressed, but I usually feel stressed because I choose (or have learnt) to interpret situations as stressful. For example, I am stuck in traffic and am going to be late for an appointment. There is little point getting stressed under these circumstances, as me getting pissed off and uptight will not clear the motorway of traffic. I am sure that there are a lot of people out there who get stressed about things that they cannot alter. Over long periods of time high levels of stress can eat away at one's physical and mental health. Are our lives today really more stressful and hard than those of people growing up 50 years ago? Are the causes of stress in modern society really the end of the world? No, they are not. I think in many cases we all need to re-evaluate our lives and work out what is important and what is not. Also, that being a stress head is generally not helpful and conducive to being a content individual.
I am not saying that the number of people stated in The Independent do not need chemical treatment for depression. I think GPs are under enormous pressure to treat patients within a finite period of time and mental health problems usually require more time to correctly diagnose and treat than a 10 minute consultation. Unfortunately, the waiting lists for non-drug therapies can be huge, often months. In the time while someone waits for a referral for a talking therapy is it better to just prescribe them anti-depressants? Many people may be better suited to a talking treatment rather than medication, but what can GPs do with such long waiting lists for these psychological treatments? It also very much depends on the individual; some will respond brilliantly to medication alone, some to psychological therapy alone and some to a combination of both.
I am not saying that pills are not the answer. From personal experience, I honestly believe that anti-depressants saved my life, although it took awhile to find the one that worked best for me. I think the government needs to invest a huge amount of funds into NHS mental health care, because the problem is only going to get worse. It has been predicted that the cost of mental health problems to the country's economy already runs into billions of pounds- surely that in itself is reason enough to increase funding.
I also believe that we need some kind of social revolution in this country. What has life come to when 85% of assaults are drink-related, thirty year olds are being treated for cirrhosis and you can't go for a quiet night out in any town centre at weekends, because people are pissed out of their heads and acting like twats. I think the media needs to become more responsible to the young people in today's society, because a lot of popular media aimed at young people is promoting superficial ideals. The majority of women are now dissatisfied with at least one part of their body and many are just too caught up in our ever expanding consumer society. We need to wake up to what is really important in life and get real.