metablue.jpg (14625 bytes)

January 1998, Volume 5 Nr. 5, Issue 53

Overwhelmed

On September 26, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 which goes into effect on January 1, 1998 and expires September 30, 2001. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) describes the law:

This landmark legislation begins the process of ending the long-held discriminatory practice of providing less insurance coverage for mental illnesses or brain disorders than is provided for physical disorders.

NAMI sees the Act as a first step in ending all forms of mental illness discrimination.

Recently, JeanneE and I were discussing how many people we knew who are undergoing therapy for and/or who were taking prescribed medication(s) for depression. When we considered the people who had done so over the past decade, the number was rather large. Almost on a daily basis I run into more people who are receiving treatment for depression.

Depression can be reactive, adjustive or situational, and includes persistent feelings of being overwhelmed, grief, sadness, hopelessness, dullness, crying, tiredness, guilt, insomnia, anhedonia, sadness, loneliness, weight gain or loss, etc. When I think about it, that describes many people that I know.

Numbers

Why are so many people taking Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax, ProZac, Effexor, Elavil, ami-tryptilline, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI), tricyclics, etc. What do these drugs do?

Many anti-depressants are serotonin reuptake inhibitors which increase the serotonin levels in the brain. Zoloft, a popular medication works in such fashion. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is found at the ends of nerves. Serotonin is manufactured by the body and its release causes messages traveling along the nerve path to continue across the space between the nerves. It is the effective medium through which messages are sent along the nerve pathways.

The premise is that some depression is caused by decreased serotonin levels, and a prescribed daily dose of sertraline, aka Zoloft, increases the naturally occurring level of serotonin allowing it to reach more normal levels.

The World Health Organization, after an exhaustive world study which lasted over a decade, reports that in 1990 depression was the world's fourth most serious health threat and that by the year 2020, it will become the second topped only by serious infection. David Dozois, a Lionel E. McLeod Health Research Scholarship recipient, working on his Ph.D. at the University of Calgary, trying to determine the causes of depression, reports,

Depression is referred to as the common cold of mental illness. Between 10 per cent and 18 per cent of people will experience this debilitating syndrome at least once over the course of their lifetime. Moreover, the average person who is depressed will have approximately five episodes, accounting for about 20 per cent of his or her lifespan.

The Anxious Class

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson initiated the war on poverty. Johnson's effort was to provide "a hand up, not a hand out." This hand-up included the creation of an alliance between the poor and middle-class students who left their cozy homes to live and work among the poor. I find it ironic that today, such action which Jesus and Ghandi would have espoused and encouraged is viewed negatively as an "entitlement" for the lazy and the non-working.

Recently, an intelligent member of my family during this giving holiday season told me that all programs to the inner cities should be ended as they were, "unsuccessful and a waste of time". Using the same reasoning, we should get rid of Christmas as it has been unsuccessful in bringing less judgment, compassion, understanding, forgiveness and help to those who need it the most.

This is what President Johnson attempted to do with the War on Poverty. Blackside, Inc., a highly successful, minority owned, independent documentary film company describes the creation of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the

...partnership helped alleviate the hardships of poverty. By building schools, acquiring school supplies, teaching, and assisting poor farmers, young American activists gained an opportunity to assist in the War on Poverty.

In the past, the anxiety of the less fortunate was at least recognized. Rather than blaming people for their misfortune, an attempt was made to better their situation with the participation of those more fortunate. Today, this has dramatically changed. The minimally more fortunate (like my pseudo-compassionate relative) in general and the maximally more fortunate (the power elite) in particular are more apt to blame the less fortunate for their own troubles, leaving them to their own resources. What's worse is they blame the poor for most of the country's problems.

Ralph Nader and Lori Wallach, writing "GATT, NAFTA, and the Subversion of the Democratic Process", state that real wages are at their lowest level since the War on Poverty began in 1964. That was 33 years of having,

...a major swath of the American population...working harder to earn less. Polling continues to show a growing 'anxious' class. A sense of despair and loss of control is at least part of the explanation for the tumultuous electoral behavior of the past two U.S. federal elections. This new anxious class is politicized and looking for answers.

An editorial in the January 1998 issue of The Nation describes an underground economy where aside from Wall Street's good news story lines, people are hurting. The edtorial makes reference to Senator Ted Kennedy,

in which he noted that for many families, worries about wages, retirement security and health care are constant. The American belief in sharing with others and caring for one another is in danger of being lost, Kennedy said, "replaced by an ominous new ethic that challenges each of us to ask only what we can do for ourselves."

I believe many people in the United States (and world-wide) are looking for answers and, they are finding them, in part, in the pharmaceuticals that are manufactured by the same transnational corporations that have brought them the anxiety in the first place, through the institutionalization of uncertainty through the creation of a global anxious consumer class that only needs to buy something to feel better.

I am not suggesting for a moment that people should not take anti-depressive medication or that they are doing so simply as matter of conspicuous consumption. What I am suggesting is that their depression is more a consequence of a culture of conspicuous consumption into which anti-depressive medications quite conveniently become part of individual solutions as well as their cause.

Pathology

Depression is pathology. It is a sickness every bit as real, perhaps more so, than influenza or strep throat. The large numbers of Americans who are depressed, a real illness to the individual, is but a symptom of a larger national (and quickly becoming, global) pathology. This economic pathology is a cofactor and along with environmental degradation and psychopolitical attempts at thought manipulation is that overwhelmingness that many of us feel which many can describe but may not necessarily explain.

A trend has developed over the past two decades where people are trained to exclusively blame themselves for unhappy or financially unpleasant states of affairs. This trend takes advantage of those that have less by making them the scapegoats for the system's failures and inflicted misery. The pathology is not of the individual, it is rather of the system. It is hard for me to believe that so many depressed people are responsible for their own depression as a consequence of their inability to pick themselves up in rugged American individualistic action and better their personal or financial lot. They are not all lazy.

William Greider, One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, p. 227, writes,

In a healthy economy, money is not the dominant value, nor is it the sole or even dominant medium of exchange. Indeed, one of the most important indicators of economic health is the presence of an active economy of affection and reciprocity in which people do a great many useful things for one another with no expectation of financial gain. Such voluntary sharing creates and maintains the social fabric of trust and mutual caring of which the social capital of any healthy family, community, or society is comprised.

Pathology enters the economic system when money becomes society's defining value and the primary currency of human exchange, grotesquely distorting public values and goals. Money, once convenient a means of facilitating commerce, comes to define the life purpose of individual and society. The human, social, and natural capital on which the well-being of any society depends becomes subject to sacrifice on the altar of money making. And money people prosper at the expense of working people. It is a social pathology called finance capitalism."

Finance capitalism as pathology recently surfaced in a large way when, succumbing to its own sickness, it found it necessary to throw prescriptive multi-gigabuck medication to four sick Asian economies at a time when, at least we are told by our government, that everyone must make sacrifices – that there is less to go around for people and social services, especially the needy. Congressman Bernie Sanders in his letter, Just Say "No" to the Asian Bailout, writes,

Somehow, at a time when President Clinton, Newt Gingrich and many leaders in Congress have told us that we have to cut back on Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' programs, affordable housing and children's needs, enough money suddenly appears in the Treasury so that, within a few weeks time, we can provide some $15 to $20 billion dollars in loans to Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea.

Twenty-two percent of the children in this country live in poverty, millions of elderly people cannot afford their prescription drugs, and forty million Americans lack health insurance. For these people, there is just no government money available to help them. They are lectured, instead, about how tough and full of risks the world is, and how the government can't protect everyone. But when foreign governments, some of which are led by corrupt authoritarian billionaires need assistance, the U.S. government is there in rapid response fashion."

So then where is the sickness? Is it in the individual who finds herself unable to make ends meet from payday to payday? Or, is it a system that spends hours and hours discussing the appropriation (Congress) of one-million dollars for people but who without a single debate can fork over $20-billion of that same taxpayers' money to bail out a morally bankrupt and sick world capitalist system without any regard, as Bernie puts it, for internationally recognized workers' rights. No wonder people are overwhelmed and depressed. We are at the bottom of the power pile and we all know what flows downhill.

Environmental Factors

While people are being blamed for their depression, little is being said about environmental factors that might contribute to depression. It is difficult in the light of what we know about genetic proclivity to prove causation between depression and the environment. I am suggesting however, that environment is one more stressor in a complicated matrix of cofactors which affect our mood and behavior. The World Health Organization describes mental health as, "...a complex phenomenon which is determined by multiple social, environmental, biological and psychological factors."

It is possible that not only is the global financial situation sick, but so is the environment. Consider the following substances found in the environment: isophorone, chlorobenzene and trichloroethane. Each has been extensively studied and associated with depression.

Isophorone: a man-made commercial product with a peppermint scent used as a solvent and found in adhesives, printing ink, paint and lacquer. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), isophorone has been found in the drinking water of Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New Orleans. It "...has been found in at least 9 out of 1,177 National Priorities List (NPL) hazardous waste sites in the United States."

Chlorobenzene: an almond-scented solvent found mostly near hazardous waste sites. Though not a significant contaminant, ATSDR reports, "Background levels of less than 1 ppb were detected in air samples from urban and suburban areas."

Trichloroethane: a colorless sweet-smelling liquid also used as a solvent. ATSDR reports, "some of the industries that discharge 1,1,2-trichloroethane are the timber products industry, plastics and synthetics industry, and laundries. Limited data show that 1,1,2-trichloroethane is present in a quarter to a half of city air samples... Surveys found 1,1,2-trichloroethane in well water in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Suffolk County, New York"

Other important environmental factors include social influences such as scapegoating, prejudice, poverty, overcrowded living conditions, chronic negativism (media), job insecurity, commercial media bombardment, marital problems, man-made and natural disasters, racism and violence against women, children and the aged, wars, disease, etc. To this list we may add tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Need we wonder why so many people are overwhelmed with anxiety and depression?

Activism & Hope

When I talk with similar-minded people, I find many who lament the decrease in or absence of activism throughout the nation. To be active is to be hopeful and the lack of thereof contributes to their hopelessness. What I believe they fail to realize is that activism is alive and well. The activism on college campuses today involves education rather than protest, and according to Jennifer M. Berkely and Martin Lieberman of Brandeis University in "Whither Activism", is reactive rather than proactive. Students are involved, for example, with the Pepsi boycott revolving around Pepsi's presence in Burma, the Jewish social action of building a better world called Tikkun Olam, the boycott of Nike products as a consequence of their treatment of workers in the Third World, etc.

College students today have new means of activism. E-mail and the Internet have transformed physical participation in demonstrations and sitins into virtual action, i.e. networking and communicating with individuals world-wide in order to consolidate power and distribute information when and where it will be most effective. In an article entitled, "The New Activism: How Today's College Students Become Politically Connected", Derek Willis writes about Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont where sophomore Jon DeForge is using the electronic discussion as a form of activism revolving around higher education funding.

I am beginning believe that it is the older folks who are resistant to change, those that have in the past perhaps been more active. At the same time, some of their anxiety is caused by their non-involvement with the changing world and the new tools of activism. As a teacher, I often see and hear my colleagues refuse to learn how to use new tools, i.e. become computer literate and proficient using the Internet. Yet, they expect their students to learn what they teach.

I am convinced that there is more activism by people in general and young people in particular than meets the eye. Some evidence includes the incredibly quick defeat of the so-called Presidential Fast Track Authority, the success of United Parcel Service strike and most notably but quickly forgotten banishment of Republican Contract on America into oblivion.

I am hopeful that in the not-too-distant future, this activism of education and organization will respond on a massive global level to the excesses and pathology of capitalist finance and other causes of anxiety within the general population. Those of us who are older, rather than resign ourselves like the relative I described earlier in this issue, rather than buy a new pair of Nike sneakers because, "They are the only sneakers that fit", can refuse to place our feet into a shoe that contributes to the anxiety of the masses. That small step of activism leads to small hope and in turn to bigger activism and larger hope. One thing we can all do is refuse to accept that our depression is self-inflicted and instead deflect our anxiety onto the ruling power elite so that causes of the working people's overwhelmingness becomes their own. 1998 is as good a time as any. With that I offer my fond farewell to 1997.

Quotes

Nearly everybody in their life needs somebody to help them. I don't care whether you're the greatest self-made man; The fact is, somebody has helped you along the way.

Sargent Shriver

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

In this country. . . men seem to live for action as long as they can and sink into apathy when they retire.

Charles Francis Adams

Everywhere in life, the true question is not what we gain, but what we do.

Thomas Carlyle

What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bibliography

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. "Depression." 
[http://atsdr1.atsdr.cdc.gov:8080 /cgi-bin/query-phs?text=depression &m=50&s=l
Internet, Accessed 30-December-97.

Berkely, Jennifer M. & Liberman, martin. "Whither Activism." 
[http://www.brandeis.edu/news/whither.html] 
Internet, 30-December-97.

Blackside, Inc. America's War on Poverty A Discussion and Viewer's Guide. In Service to America  
[http://breakthrough.blackside.com/blackside/EducationOutreach/WOPguidetext4.html
Internet, Accessed 29-December-97.

Depression.net. "Main Menu." 
[http://www.response-net.com/xlor-dep.htm
Internet. Accessed, 25-December-97.

Drug Infonet, Inc. Infolink The Internet Source for Healthcare Information. " Doctors' Answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" - Seratonin. 
[http://www.druginfonet.com/faq/faqserat.htm
Internet, Accessed 30-December-97.

Greider, William. One World, Ready or Not : The Manic Logic of

Global Capitalism. Simon and Schuster (New York: 1997), pp. 227.

Mander, Jerry and Goldsmith, Edward. The Case Against the Global Economy and for a Turn to the Local. Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, 1996. pp. 107.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Policy and Legislative Information. "Mental Health Parity Act of 1996." 
[http://www. nami.org/update/parity96.html
Internet. Accessed, 25-December-97.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. "Depression to Rise Worldwide, say WHO." 
[http://www.nami.org/disorder/who.htm

Sanders, Bernie. The United States House of Representatives. "Just Say 'No' to the Asian Bailout". 
[http://www.house.gov/bernie/ Pressrel/12-10-97.html
Internet. Accessed, 30-December-97.

University of Calgary, Canada. Research Story Index. "Depression: the common cold of mental illness". 
[http://www.ucalgary.ca/ pubaff/Gazette/Stories/dozois.html
Internet. Accessed, 29-December-97.

Willis, Derek. The New Activism. "How today's college students become politically connected." 
[http://www.jou.ufl.edu/pubs/sd/ active.htm
Internet. Accessed, 31-December-97.

1998 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

Return to Homepage

Feedback