Good health and well-being are connected through mental health which is becoming increasingly important in modern times. An important part of this goal has a lot to do with finding words that give answers to what? and to: why? The first one is relatively easy. We are all great experts when it comes to saying what is happening to us. One can easily put words to feeling tired, angry, sad, hurt, or offended. Or happy, delighted, excited, or in love. It is relatively easy to access our emotional dictionary and find the answer to the question: What? The thing gets complicated with the other question. Why do I feel the way I do?
When we are unable to answer the second question, we lose our spirits and resort to artificial solutions. In some cases, unease drives us to despair until we seek medical advice. This is a delicate step because some professionals (who may feel just as lost as we do) perhaps prescribe pills too cheerfully in order to make us believe that we have found the answer.
Symptoms may be gone but the problems remain, although we are unable to see them. We go home and spend our lives crammed with pills, locked in our little cell. Until the next medical consultation. This reminds me of an ingenious, although not very useful, advice from a Portuguese friend: “Never discuss your health with your doctor.”
However, the problem is not the medicine. It certainly exists to help us live healthier. The problem is that we far too easily transfer our responsibility to medicine. It is up to each of us to seek answers. And it is up to all of us to get society to promote better emotional education instead of facilitating quick access to pills.
According to a report released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of antidepressant use in the US among teens and adults (people ages 12 and older) increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008.
According to Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the use of medications for anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy has increased by 20 percent between 2006 and 2013 in Sweden among children and adolescents.
According to data published in 2015 by the Spanish Ministry of Health, in the last decade, the use of tranquilizers among young people has doubled.
Although the Chinese state national health department does not publish the statistics, Menet, being a private company, does. According to their data, in 2011 sales of antidepressants in China have been experimenting a steady, near 20% annual growth since the years 2005 (Chalabi, 2013).
Depression is one of the manifestations of health and well-being. It anchors patients in the world of objects and by doing so preserves them from “being catapulted into the nothingness that they fear so much” (Rohde-Dachser, 2010). It is a ‘high price of materialism’ (Domagalski, 2004) and the manifestation of how the “contemporary culture of consumerism and materialism affects our everyday happiness and psychological health” (Domagalski, 2004). Another (although from the clinical perspective less severe) consumerism triggered distress is ‘affluenza’, which arises from a preoccupation with possession and appearance. At the core of their fast global spread is advertising. It ‘creates an illusory felt need for products’ (Domagalski, 2004) by ‘convincing you that you’re missing something’ (Macy & Johnstone, 2012). The magnitude of the exposure to its negative influences becomes clear when taking into account that children in the United States spend nearly 11.000 minutes a year watching TV advertisements, while in the case of adults this figure is doubled, meaning they spend over two weeks a year consuming TV commercials (Wright&Rogers, 2010).
That is why a part of the solution for the SDG 3 relates to SDG4: Quality education. According to Spanish national statistics (CIS), 57.5% of the Spanish surveyed have never visited a bookstore and 74.7% have not set foot in a library either. Being exposed to daily stress without any other source of meaning besides the affluenza and consumerism-oriented media leaves a vast majority of people to seek answers in the pills prescriptions.
In some cases, the medication does provide solutions, but it is always the last and not the first resort. Good professional counseling, healthy emotional education, physical exercise, strong social support, and knowledge are much more effective. Quick fixes never lead to long-term solutions. In the worst-case scenario, they lead to a spiral of dependency and trigger other health-related issues.
In a world dominated by fleeting fashions, a consumerism-driven mentality prevails, lingering on the surface without delving into the depths of the human condition. In response, one must have enough virtue and courage to quest down into the dungeons of our fears and traumas, into the sewers of our guilt, and into the abysses of human nature to find the answer to why. In that brave effort, it helps to remember that “Best readings make us better. Or less bad”, as Jordi Nadal, my dear friend, and editor, writes in Librotherapy. The best readings save us all that time we would waste looking for quick fixes. At the same time, it keeps us from the disastrous consequences of being exposed to advertising and other consumerism-oriented tools.
That is why, in this world of increasing complexity, one should make time for a good reading, the one that awakens our senses towards understanding the causes instead of silencing the symptoms, as pills usually do.