It occurs to me that roughly half the people I know are taking a pill for something these days. Even in my own family, most of them are pretty settled, but many of them are on mood-augmenting drugs of some kind. When I’ve asked, it’s always started with a visit to a GP, during which they mentioned they were feeling kind of down, or that things hadn’t been going their way for a while – somehow their ducks were not all in a row.
Last time I checked, this was quite normal. What’s more, given that we are only just emerging from the deepest recession in living memory, it’s also quite understandable. People are feeling strung out. What I don’t understand is why we can’t be left alone to overcome our difficulties in time, on our own, through our own self-determination and hard-work.
In the meantime, I was catching numerous media highlights, most notably on the talkback radio station LBC, about vast proportions of our school-age population being on ritalin for the crime of none other than being a bit noisy in class. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for discipline in the classroom, but surely (to a point), kids clown around a bit and this should be expected, right?
I’d say it’s right, but this normality has been politicised into a disorder. Now, the slightest disturbance in the classroom earns you a prescription. I wouldn’t mind if we were talking about the 1% who kick the shit out of the other kids, but we’re not. We’re talking about anyone who dares to answer a question without raising their hand first. No, that’s not a case of human error or forgetting the rules for a moment. It’s a learning disability and it can be cured with a pill.
The first time this all really hit home was a few years ago. I’d just been dumped and went to my GP for something fairly routine. I was asked how I was. So I explained I wasn’t feeling too good and said why. Before I could say much more, I was being handed a prescription for an anti-depressant. Actually I must confess I started taking them. After about 2 or 3 months of this I realised I was actually feeling worse than when I started. My perceptions were becoming clouded and I was losing focus. I also noted that my calf muscles were hurting in much the same way as one gets shin splits. But my GP insisted I persevere and even warned me about the dangers of giving up suddenly. Furthermore, I began to notice that even easier than getting the initial prescription was getting the repeat prescription! I barely needed to identify myself at the pharmacy. Something wasn’t adding up. I didn’t remember actually being ill in the first place but I was in a position where I stood to become addicted to medication. Another month went by and I decided to risk giving up.
I felt like I’d been released from a smoky room. Fortunately I’d not been taking them long enough to have formed an addiction. But it did make me wonder if the whole point of the exercise was to take me at my most vulnerable and make me form a state-sponsored addiction.
Now don’t get me wrong. I fully sympathise with the individuals who actually need to be on these drugs, but I would like to put a few question marks over how easy it is to get hold of them. Let’s be clear about this. Things like anti-depressants and other mood-altering drugs affect the brain chemistry. That’s right – their primary aim is to get inside your brain and faff around with the way electrical impulses get passed around up there. Is it just me or does that sound blatantly dangerous and only to be attempted when other courses of action have failed?
I realise there has been research into the safety of these drugs and that I might be treading the dividing line of scaremongering, but still, even if these things are safe, do we really want to be handing them out so readily?
Let’s just nip back to the classroom for a moment. Could it just be possible that that kid who doesn’t quite follow the party line isn’t some kind of threat, but merely someone who thinks outside the box? In a way I feel lucky I went through the education system at the time I did. Although I was often sidelined for having a different thought process to most of my peers, I wasn’t sectioned for it. Were I going through now, it sounds like the thought police would get me.
To me this sounds like you really need to think right (from the state’s point of view) and that what you do at school is the screening process. So keep a closer eye on what you and your loved ones are being prescribed. Don’t be afraid to challenge this sort of thing.
If you can get enough people paying for a regular prescription for a drug they don’t really need, it starts to look like a real moneyspinner. There are 60 million people in this country. If you can get even a tenth of them paying a monthly prescription charge, you have a meal ticket for life. And if you can get kids on the bandwagon by convincing the parents they’ll be neglecting their own kids if they don’t, it starts to look even more lucrative. And don’t get me started on privatising the NHS either, because then it really will be about profit.
Is our health really being looked after? Or is it just another cash cow? Or maybe it’s oppression? I’m having trouble telling the difference these days.