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Tell me, how do you feel?

16 August 2013

JEAN had struggled with depression all her life, but decided to come off her prescribed anti-depressants. Why? Because she had attended the wedding of her son, and felt nothing; and then had the same experience when her first grandchild was born. She wanted to feel again; she did not want to be numb. But then, a few months after coming off the drugs, she took her own life. There had been no one to talk to.

It is not by chance that the ITV soap Emmerdale has a long-running story of addiction to prescription drugs. It is topical. A recent BBC investigation revealed that, each month, in Blackpool, one adult in six picks up a prescription for anti-depressants. "A seaside resort promising fun and excitement to visitors emerges as the place in England with the highest proportion of its population regularly taking medication for depression and anxiety." And the same ratio is repeated in other English towns and cities, including Barnsley, Redcar, Durham, Middlesbrough, Salford, and Sunderland.

Tranquillisers are a tempting solution for those with mental-health issues. But there are now about 1.5 million people addicted to tranquillisers and sleeping tablets such as Valium and Mogadon, and two things should be noted.

First, these drugs are meant to be a short-term intervention - after this, they are dangerously addictive. As MIND states on its website: "Since 1988, the guidelines have stated that they should be used for 2-4 weeks; however, doctors have ignored these guidelines, leaving many patients on them for months, years, and decades."

Second, tranquillisers are not only addictive, but also against healing, cutting us off from the feeling where our true healing lies. Our feelings are the golden thread that leads us back to the source of our pain. We were not born depressed; this is something we have acquired along the way. But when our feelings are numbed, the golden thread is cut, and with it, the path to our healing.

In the short term, we may be glad of this numbing, but the long-term cost is high. We are numb to the root of our problem, and, in some ways, numb to life itself. I think of a man addicted to tranquillisers for ten years, and able to remember very little of that time.

The human body is a fragile chemical balance; so chemicals will always be, on occasion, life-saving. But official guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence urges doctors to treat patients who are suffering mild to moderate depression with psychological therapies. Medication is recommended only for more severe depressive illness - in conjunction with therapy.


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