Fascinating article today over on the Beliefnet Blog by Ronald Pies, M.D., professor of psychiatry, busting the myths surrounding antidepressants, then looking for the cause of these misconceptions and couching the answer within the Puritan mindset.
Do take the time to read it all – it’s only a short piece – but here is the conclusion:
So why is there so much hostility directed at these medications? (The same question could be raised with respect to psychiatry and psychiatrists, but that’s another story). I believe that a good deal of the animus arises from our Puritan heritage, and its attitude toward suffering, sin, and expiation. For the Puritans of New England, disease was essentially a divine punishment for Man’s original disobedience to God. As historian An Vandenberghe has put it, for the Puritans, ‘Even though there were more than two thousand different diseases…the primary cause of all of them was the “Sin of our First Parents.”’ There was also a strong link between disease and personal sin: the person whose tooth ached probably did something nasty with his teeth!
Now, when psychiatrists see patients with severe major depression, these unfortunate souls often express the view that their illness is a “punishment” of some sort. Some believe that God is punishing them for their sins. But this attitude, in a less extreme form, pervades our society’s views about depression—that it is, in some sense, the “fault” of the depressed individual. Some clinicians who argue that depression has an “adaptive” value often begin with the premise that depression represents the person’s “failure to resolve their social dilemmas”—a clinical euphemism for blaming the sufferer. The logical extension of this line of reasoning is that the depressed individual must somehow “repent of his ways”—for example, by ruminating on his problem until it is solved, or by “pulling himself up by his bootstraps.”
In this view of depression, taking a “drug”—the term “medication” is almost never used by those opposed to antidepressants—represents a weak-willed dodge. Antidepressants are seen as merely “covering up the real problem” or as “a crutch.” This attitude is extraordinarily unhelpful for those struggling with a potentially lethal illness. Although I prefer to begin with psychotherapy in most mild-to-moderate cases of depression, the more severe bouts usually require medication. Often, the combination of medication and therapy works better than either one alone. And I use a non-Puritanical metaphor in framing the issue for my patients. I say, “Medication isn’t a crutch, it’s a bridge between feeling awful and feeling better. You still have to move your legs to get across the bridge, and that’s the work of therapy.”
Let me know you thoughts.