The Rise of Antidepressants

The BBC ran a news piece today about the massive rise in use of antidepressants in England and Wales over the last 10 years. And depending on which study you believe between 1 in 11 and 1 in 6 people in England are now on an antidepressant (though we must remember, that antidepressants can be used for other conditions like pain management and irritable bowel syndrome – IBS). In the USA, antidepressants are now the second biggest group of prescribed drugs.

 

So, what should we conclude? Well, firstly, it is good news that it has become much more acceptable for people to talk about struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. It is good that people are going to see their GP when they feel depressed and anxious, rather than just trying to cope with it. So, we mustn’t now necessarily insinuate that the increase in prescriptions is a bad thing, because firstly, that can heap shame on those who are taking them, which is unhelpful at so many levels and also, we need to remember that there is actually a good evidence-base behind anti-depressant medication. They really do work – I’ve seen that again and again for my patients, who choose to go on them, and for sure, I would love to see more psychological therapies available on the NHS, as an alternative or as an adjunct to medication. Waiting lists are currently far too long for such therapeutic interventions and many people choose medication because they cannot afford to pay for therapy or indeed to wait several months for the help they need. We don’t report the use of antihypertensives to control blood pressure negatively and so we need to be careful about taking a dim view of medications which help improve mental health.

 

However, when so many in our society are struggling with anxiety and depression to this extent (and it’s really positive that we’re talking about it and that people are getting help), we need to ask ourselves some big questions about the root causes of this and what we can do as a nation to improve our mental health. One of all time favourite quotes is that of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when he says:

 

“There comes a point, where we have to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.”

 

So, in the rest of this blog, I’m going to explore some root causes, whilst recognising that for many people, endogenous depression (i.e. a neurochemical cause in the brain) IS the root cause, and therefore their depression may not have any other roots to it.  I’ve also done this vlog (which I did for mental health awareness week) about what depression is and some of the things that can help.

 

But in looking for root causes, let’s start at the beginning. I’ve written on this blog a number of times about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the impact of Trauma on our lives. So many of us live with unhealed pain, which over time eats away at us and makes it harder for us to remain mentally well. Many of us go through trauma and are able to survive it better than others, but that is because we’ve had other things in our lives at the time which have helped us navigate the storm. However, we need to recognise more the massive reality of trauma in our lives, so that we can face it, and find healing together. This is one of the reasons why I’ve co-written ‘The Little Book of ACEs’ with some friends and colleagues, here in Morecambe Bay. There is a free PDF version of it, if you click here. You may also find this inspiring talk by Jaz Ampur-Farr, herself a survivor of significant trauma, really helpful. Jaz is joining us in Morecambe Bay very soon, to explore some of these issues.

 

We must also be brave enough to recognise that we have a complex corporate history, which shapes our identity and we have a society, which is by no means equal or fair. Prof Bev Skeggs, and Prof Imogen Tyler, two of the foremost sociology professors in the UK/world right now, are writing so powerfully about this. It’s well worth digging into their work, and I am so excited that they are here at Lancaster University, in Morecambe Bay, and will be exploring some of these issues with us in more depth over the next few months. We cannot underestimate how injustice, poverty, and inequality impacts our mental health.

 

Stress has a hugely negative impact on our mental health. Our work patterns have become so manic and busy and our weekends often so full, that we have forgotten how to rest, how to stop, how to switch off and take notice of the beauty all around us – of the things which really matter. This takes a huge toll on us. The girl guides took part in a fascinating survey about what causes them stress and feeds mental health issues. The number one factor was the pressure they feel to do well at school. Our very systems and the treadmill of the exams are making our young people unwell. The idea of slowing down and learning to switch off from our ever faster, consumerist world, seems laughable to so many of us – and yet I would argue that this is one of the greatest causes of our ill-being. We have created an economy which treats people like fodder for the economic machine and is literally killing the planet around us – another underlying huge but often unrecognised cause of our stress. We must rebuild an economy based on wellbeing. It’s why I’m so excited that we’ll be welcoming Prof Katherine Trebeck to Morecambe Bay in the next few weeks.

 

Another causative factor of our growing mental illness in society, perhaps caused by all the busyness, is loneliness and isolation. Despite our many frantic activities, and social networking, 20% of the UK population say they feel lonely, but that jumps to between 50 and 75% of people over 75. We were made to be in relationship. When we are disconnected from community, we become sad and low. We need to remember how to love people, and also to be loved. Our disconnection is leading to increased separation, suspicion of others and a rise in racism and hatred. This is in no way good for our mental health. Valerie Kaur explores this so powerfully in her incredible TED talk on revolutionary love. We need to reimagine a society in which relationship is at the core of our being together. Hilary Cottam’s work is so vital in helping us recover this. Again, Hilary is coming to the Bay in the coming months to help us dig deeper as a community into these ideas.

 

I am so glad that we are talking about mental health so much more seriously. I am glad that people are able to take medication that can help them and that the stigma is being broken. I am hopeful though that we can recognise together just how broken our society is, and how our current political and economic systems (including our beloved health system) cannot fix this. Perhaps, in learning to be together in the dark, when we cannot see the light, wrestling with the complexity of our pain, healing our trauma and reimagining our future, we might find that our need for medication decreases.

 

 

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Adam Smith Was Wrong!

I have recently been at a brilliant gathering of people, down in Sussex, called ‘Sparks’. I always find it to be one of the more helpful imaginariums which I spend time at and love the diversity of the people who come. What follows is some learning I’ve taken from my good friend, Mark Sampson and his fabulous PhD thesis.

 

Adam Smith famously stated: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

 

Like Mark, I disagree with him! I do not believe that self-interest is the basis for individual interaction and whatever we are told, the unrestrained free market is not benevolent!

 

We have allowed economic language not only to inform reality, but to create it. The language and vocabulary of economics is performative – it creates the world around us. Why would we think that self-interested economics will lead to goodness in society when we do not believe that in other parts of society or our own lives? It is not true of our relationships in our families nor in our friendships, so why do we allow a split mindset in how we think about work?

 

Some economists (Robertson and Summers) have argued that we should promote self-interest in policies and act out of this same motive in business, but altruism in other areas of our life, like our family and charitable work. This is ludicrous!

 

As Kate Raworth has so eloquently demonstrated, this current model of economics is dividing us, isolating us and slowly destroying us. It may, in some ways have gotten us to where we are, but it is neither capable nor kind enough to give us the future that will lead to a more connected and healed society and a more sustainable planet. Enlightenment thinking holds very little light for us now. And so, it is time to let it go, to lament its failure and discover together a new language and a more sustainable model for a reimagined future. Some of this requires exchanging the language of scarcity to one of abundance, renouncing the doctrine of growth for one of equilibrium, repenting of our obsession with competition and embracing relationship and collaboration and replacing self-interest with the notion of gift, reciprocity and mutuality.

 

This requires us to dig deeper into a spirituality and a paradigm shift in our thinking which embraces incongruity! The beauty of mutuality is that it recognises that there is personal benefit to the giver as well as the receiver in any gift-exchange interaction and it strengthens the bond of relationship. Since I watched the Christopher Robin movie, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about upsidedown triangles. Our current economies are built in pyramids, with those at the top “earning” and holding absolutely vast sums of money. What if we gave our most and prioritised those considered at the bottom as the most important? In the NHS we think a lot about ‘equality and diversity’ but often do little about it. For example, most of our waiting rooms and clinical environments are incredible unfriendly for people who have an autistic spectrum condition (ASC). What if, when designing these spaces, we didn’t tag on some kind of tick-box exercise afterwards to show we’ve considered people with ‘disability’ in a vague sense, but actually put them at the forefront of our thinking and planning? What if people living with ASC were at the very forefront of our planning decisions? Incongruous, perhaps, but a different kind of economy, which feels to me to be altogether kinder.

 

In my last blog, I explored how it is isolation (and competition caused by our need to try and overcome our human limitations) which cases poverty. What might we imagine together of an economy in which we prioritise relationships first, and worked together WITH those often left at the bottom of the pile or tagged on as an after thought? What might our planning cycles be like, if we slowed things down and really collaborated WITH our communities and truly considered all the benefits of mutuality? I believe we are at a moment in which the facades are well and truly down. We can see more clearly than ever just how broken our current economic system is, the true effects of putting our faith in the ‘free market’ to create a fair society and a sustainable planet and the realities of allowing our policies to be shaped on the notion of self-interest. It would be insane for us to continue with such a broken model, but it will take ongoing bravery to undo it’s myth in our minds, breakdown the strongholds of the many vested interests and to be part of a corporate reimagining of something based on mutuality and even incongruity!

 

In the end, I believe that when we deal with our root issues and become more healed, we are far more motivated by love than self-interest – and I see this every day! We are made in the image of God but allow ourselves to believe much less of ourselves. To quote Charles Eisenstein, “it is time for us to tell a more ancient and far more beautiful story which our hearts tell us is possible.” What if Milton Friedman was wrong and the business of business is not business? I know that may seem ridiculous, but what if the business of business is to ensure that every life matters, that we are more connected and living in a more sustainable way? What if it was the business of business to make real what really matters to us all? What else might a reimagined business of business be? And what effect might that have on how we think about economics and how we collaborate for a more mutually beneficial society and planet? I think we see this in many models and forms of business already. There are some wonderfully ethical and gentle businesses – I think this is especially true of smaller businesses where relationships are both vital and strong. It is the impersonal banking sector in particular, built on an economy of debt, with multi-lateral corporate giants that holds us prisoner.

 

The reason I am writing about this on this blog is that so much of our health and wellbeing is governed by our philosophy of economics and it is the language of economics which shapes so much of our thinking and reality. So, be careful how you speak about it, find some better words and let’s begin to shape a new future together for the sake of the wellbeing of humanity and the planet!

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Truth about Poverty

Tweet One of the best things I have been involved in over the last few years, is the Poverty Truth Commission and it has helped me to learn just how utterly complex and wicked poverty is as an issue. I’m currently reading an absolutely brilliant book by the theologian Samuel Wells, called ‘The Nazareth Manifesto’. [Continue Reading …]

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A Vision for Population Health and Wellbeing – All Together We Can

Tweet If you haven’t yet had the chance to read the Kings Fund’s vision for population health (and it’s the kind of thing that interests you) then I would heartily recommend that you do so. (https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/vision-population-health). It is a real ‘Tour de Force’ and deserves some significant consideration. I like it because it doesn’t hold [Continue Reading …]

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Health and Society – Part 3 – Can We Make a Difference?

Tweet On the 70th Birthday of the NHS, here is the 3rd and final part of this mini-vlog-series. In this one I look at how we can make some positive steps for our own health and wellbeing and explore the issues of choice and responsibility, whilst we also tackle health inequality and issues of social [Continue Reading …]

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Changing the Future of Adverse Childhood Experiences

Tweet Applying a Population Health Approach to Adverse Childhood Experiences   Adverse Childhood Experiences are one of our most important Population Health issues due to their long lasting impact on the physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing of a person and indeed the wider community. It is therefore really important that we apply a [Continue Reading …]

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Health and Society – Can We Make A Difference? Part 2 – politics

Tweet In the second of this (actually 3-part!) series, I’m looking at how politics and social movement are vital at changing the health and wellbeing of our society, communities and the environment we live in. Together We Can!         Share This:

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Health and Society – Can we make a Difference? Part 1 – Economics

Tweet If we want to make a difference to health and wellbeing in society, tackling health inequalities, whilst protecting the health and wellbeing of the environment and creating a fair and just save for humanity…..we have to ask ourselves some searching questions about whether or not our current economic models are really fit for purpose. [Continue Reading …]

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Does Design Care?

Tweet Earlier this week, I had the privilege of sitting in some conversations at ‘Imagination’, Lancaster University as part of a conference, hosted by Prof Paul Rogers, entitled ‘Does Design Care?’ It has left me with much to think about in terms of how the health and social care system is currently being redesigned here [Continue Reading …]

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Who is Responsible for Your Health?

Tweet Who should take responsibility for you health? Sounds like a straightforward question, doesn’t it? But I get so frustrated when complex issues get squashed into simplified, silo-thinking, ready for twitter or media sound bites, or the under-girding of political ideologies. So….just as the economy is not just made up of the interplay between business and [Continue Reading …]

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