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
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.