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The best treatment for depression: Give up your illusions

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on February 22, 2012 at 8:00 AM


On Sunday evening, February 19, 2012, correspondent Lesley Stahl presided over a 60 Minutes episode entitled Treating Depression: Is there a placebo effect? The report centered around the findings of Harvard psychologist and researcher Irving Kirsch, who studies the placebo effect. Kirsch maintains that based on his research there is minimal difference between the effect of a placebo and the effect of an antidepressant for most people.

Psychiatrists and pharmaceutical industry spokespeople are rushing to defend the use of the medications, which are currently being taken by 17 million Americans and bring in $11.3 billion a year to drug companies.

As anecdotes, statistics and case studies are being bantered about by experts, the question that comes to my mind is why are so many of us being diagnosed with depression in the first place? What is going on that we must rely on a medication to help us cope with everyday life in this country?

I believe that the root cause of our depression epidemic in the US is the fact that we cling to illusions about life that have no substance. Our illusions tell us that life should always be happy and we should not suffer. When things turn out differently than expected we become chronically disappointed. And when patients seek medical help for their sadness, doctors have nothing to offer except medications, which may or may not be effective.

Our powerful illusions are fed by the media and by advertising that bombards us with the message that something is missing and wrong and inadequate about our lives. We long for meaning in life but have no idea how to find it. We run away from our suffering but ironically, our suffering is the path to meaning in our lives. We cannot find meaning if we constantly run from it or try to numb ourselves to it.

Truly, millions of people have been helped by taking antidepressant medications and should not stop taking them without medical supervision. But the point is that medication alone is not enough to find happiness or meaning or purpose in life.

We must come to terms with our suffering and disappointment and find a way to transcend them, to make something greater and unexpected and miraculous out of the difficulties life offers us. We must awaken to our illusions and realize that life was never meant to be anything other than what it is right here, right now in this moment.

In the end, of course, it doesn’t really matter if studies show that antidepressants are more effective than placebo or not. It matters that we take responsibility for our own lives, do our best to keep growing and learning in every situation, and find a little help along the journey whenever necessary, whether it comes in the form of a medication or a placebo or watching the sunrise every morming.

As Marcus Aurelius said: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Indeed.

Categories: Psychology, Current Events, Lifestyle

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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