A person in my life has been suffering from depression lately, and it’s so hard to watch. I’ve never really been on the other side of this as much as I’ve been lately. I mean, I recognize that my mother was depressed a lot as I was growing up, but I think she did a pretty good job of hiding it from her kids. I’m usually the one lying unresponsive on the couch, watching life through the TV because I just don’t have the energy to get up and do anything. It’s very strange to be observing this behavior instead of engaging in it, and it’s clarified and strengthened my views on depression, pills, our society, and marijuana.
My friend’s (lets call him Darien) doctors have been prescribing him all sorts of pills. At one point, he was up to 9 a day and taking well over the recommended dosage for most of them. Pills to help him sleep, pills to help him wake up, pills for anxiety, pills to make him sick if he drank, pain pills, etc. Pills. Pills. Pills. Darien was supposed to go to AA to handle some drinking issues associated with all this mess, and his shrink usually couldn’t see him regularly at all. Now I’ve never personally gone to AA, but from the stories I’ve been told, I never will. Cause some of these people have PROBLEMS. Like trading their children for alcohol type of problems. Which is a lot different than just people who tend to drink a lot when they’re unhappy and can’t seem to control it. AA is not group therapy. I would probably come out of it feeling more depressed and needing a drink. Now I’m sorry if this feels like I’m trashing AA; I understand that the program has changed countless lives and really does help people. I’m just saying that it’s not for everyone and it’s not for every drinking/substance abuse problem. And it wasn’t helping Darien. So he was basically sitting alone in his house all day except for a few random doctor’s visits and meetings, popping pills and hoping that it would all get better.
Well here’s a huge shocker: it didn’t. That’s because while pills can be helpful tools sometimes in some cases, they are not a solution to everything, and I wish that our society would realize that fact. In most behaviorial medicine, we don’t even know the full extent of what the meds do! Listen really carefully to that next SSRI commercial on TV; you’ll notice the phrase “<insert medicine here> is believed to <insert pretty picture of synaptic gaps, serotonin, etc>.” My medicine is believed to do something? Like if I believe it will work, it will? I know what they’re really saying: we’ve tested this product out on people like you and we’ve observed these consistent changes. That’s awesome, I’m glad that you’ve recognized some of what these chemicals do to my body. What else are you doing to me that you don’t know about? One of Darien’s medications actually caused him to have more anxiety, and it was such a rare side effect that his doctors at the time didn’t link it to the prescription; they simply tried to treat it with more pills. We’re treating pills with more pills. Seriously?! He got a new doctor, who took him off of about half of what he was taking, and he’s feeling better. Still depressed, but better.
So here’s a little medicine that I’ve witnessed firsthand with Darien. Its side effects are happiness, sleepiness, slight paranoia, and hunger. Oh yeah, you know where I’m going with this. Marijuana. Now he’s only smoked thrice since I’ve known him and all three times have been when he feels like his medicine has failed him and he has to calm his shit down. And you know what? It works. He feels calm immediately afterwards, and he is more productive and motivated the next day. None of his prescription medications do that. Unfortunately, after telling his doctors and the program he was attending that his medicine wasn’t working and not getting any serious response from them, he smoked. He felt better. He was helping himself where they were failing him. And they kicked him out of his program. That’s messed up. I mean, I can see things from their perspective too. It was a substance abuse program, and the participants are supposed to stay clean. But it’s not like he’s a regular user or even abuser of pot, and he kept pestering them about how bad he still felt and they did nothing.
Ok, so even though I think that marijuana is far better than pills for anxiety and depression, I think there’s an even better cure: people. One of the worst things about depression is feeling alone. Darien is alone in the house all day, every day, watching TV. Days begin to blend together, all motivation is lost, and time begins to mean absolutely nothing because it just keeps dragging on. Circumstances like that would drive a completely stable person a little crazy, so what effect do you think it has on a person who’s already a little off his rocker? We are mainly social creatures that need to interact with other people. Even introverts need company sometimes. I fully believe that companions or life coaches are one of the best ways to combat depression. In my mind, they’d be sort of like the companions that old people have sometimes. You know, they help them take their meds, buy groceries, get to doctor’s appointments, etc. But depression companions would help the depressed person work towards their goals and keep them motivated. When Darien’s sister was in town, he was the most active I’d seen him in months. He was sleeping on a more regular schedule, getting up and staying up most of the day, and helping around the house. It’s because he had to entertain his sister and do things with her. A companion would serve the same function. They’d make sure that a good combination of diet, exercise, and activity worked to help the person get their life back on track. I realize that this is probably impossible for most people because it would cost a lot more than even prescription meds (which are already ridiculously expensive), but I still think that it would work the best. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to him wanting to get better and finding the motivation to help himself.
I just really wish that our society viewed depression differently. Doctors overdiagnose people with it all the time and throw pills at them that they don’t need. What people need is to not feel alone with all of their problems in this chaotic and unstable world that we’re in. This is one of the downfalls of being a competitive, dog-eat-dog, capitalist society.