Medicating the Mind (Part 2 of 3)

What Do Pills Really Do To Change Your Life?

At best, a pill can calm or sedate you. Sometimes this might be a good idea, but more often it probably isn’t. If you’re too calm or sedated, how can you think? Without your capacity for thinking, you won’t be able to identify your wrong choices, mistakenly held premises, or unhealthy relationships in which you engage.

Pills are designed to work at doing what they do. They are designed to negate the unpleasant aspects of consciousness. In the process, they will often negate the necessary and positive aspects of consciousness such as clarity, focus, alertness and rich emotional experience.

These are the complaints I hear from people who take lots of psychiatric medication over a long period of time. It’s as if life switches from color to black-and-white. Not everyone who opposes the use of medication for personal or emotional problems does so for the right reasons. Thomas Szasz, a well known physician who speaks out against psychiatric medication, writes that the alternative to psychiatric coercion through medication is ‘individuality and independence.’

However, this begs the question: What if someone is acting against his own interests? What if someone is acting in a self-defeating or otherwise irrational way? Szasz would presumably argue that he’s being ‘individualistic’ and ‘independent,’ but this still doesn’t change the fact that the patient has objective psychological or even character problems. (See

Mental health is not primarily achieved through individuality and independence. As crucial as these qualities are, they are the byproduct of something more fundamental: The determination to be rational, objective and live in reality. A drug addict who rebels against a society of sober, non-drugabusing people, for example, is being independent in a certain sense—but clearly not rational.

The supposed validity of anyone and everyone’s subjective emotional experience cannot be a reason to oppose medication. Sometimes our emotions are mistaken—even irrational—and if medication could correct these errors in thinking, it would be desirable. The question is: Does this really happen?

(continued in tomorrow’s column)