Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seriously, No Happy Pill

As a psychopharmacologist, I prescribe a lot of medications for people struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. I have tried to become clear in recent years in describing what I expect these medications can and cannot do. Sometimes I forget to give the speech, but a lot of times people do not hear what they do not want to hear. I believe medications can save lives and can take a depressed person from complete despair to functional. Sometimes the results are nothing short of miraculous, most of the time they are not.
My short speech explains that medications can provide symptomatic relief for the illness they are intended to treat. They can make a person more energetic, sleep better, feel more engaged and less irritable, and reduce unwarranted crying spells. They will not, however, make a person happy. The pills cannot bring joy or love, they can't take away a terrible job or marriage, and they will not make every day a lovely party filled with sunshine. Ok, that last part I don't actually say, but it's implied. Yet at least every week, if not more often, I am told by formerly depressed people that they are not happy. Or worse from my standpoint, that they still have bad days now and then. Really? So do I... Life is full of ups and downs, and emotions will change with circumstances. If you have a lousy job, you will have to find a way to cope with it and not let it create despair, or you will have to find another job. Prozac will not change that fact.
I am on a roll on my good old soap box here, but I think this topic is so important, I named my blog after it! I have been reading a lot of so-called happiness psychology, and it makes serious sense to me. We have to choose each day to be in the moment, to not let the little things bring us down and to practice gratitude. These choices will help us stay afloat on the waves of circumstance and emotion that can affect our mood. Again, medications are necessary for some people to allow them to get to the point of being able to choose. That is their value. Then, as my speech usually ends, the real work begins. We can choose to exercise, breathe, practice a spiritual pursuit, eat well and find a way to give back to others. These plus many other positive experiences will help us choose happiness each and every day.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Janeen- I love this post! It is truly music to my ears. Every human being is more than a bag of bones and neurochemicals- and popping a pill is never the whole answer to true mental health. This is not to discount the valuable role that medications can play...But all of the other things that you mention in this blog are so important and empowering! I also love the growing literature on happiness. Now I'm reading "Awakening Joy" by James Baraz, and it is stunningly worthwhile. Thanks for this post- and for the great name of your blog. No Happy Pill is good news- because there is so much more to happiness than taking a pill.