Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Prozac kills endangered species by making people too happy?

With doom and gloom everywhere, more people are reaching for Prozac and other happy pills. Is this a quick fix that erases the motivation for great art and other higher callings like saving endangered species?

Eric Wilson says yes, and he worries that America's obsession with happiness threatens to purge sadness and undermine higher callings like great art. If this is true, will Prozac also kill nature conservation?

What motivates nature conservation? Is it sadness over a dire situation? If so, then will the Prozac epidemic drain from us the driving force that moves people to save endangered species?

I'm not so sure that doom and gloom is a useful motivator. Are we driven to save endangered species because science says they're in trouble? Will we stop climate change because of scientific doom and gloom about an apocalyptic future? Or does the motivation for nature conservation come from a different place?

I think doom and gloom hinders action on nature conservation because it paralyzes people. People are more strongly moved towards conservation when they feel empowered and capable, and engaged in building solutions. In contrast, a statement of impending doom, absent a productive solution, seems to drive people away from the cause of conserving nature. Who wants to go into futility?

It's probably a good idea to question Prozac and other options for changing and enhancing people. Are they useful? Are they ethical? How do they change individuals and human cultures?

There's some sense to the argument that it's right to be sad in the face of things bad. But I think doom and gloom can be taken too far. In fact, I think doom and gloom has been taken too far in conservation.It's a laughable stereotype that conservationists are nothing but doom and gloom. The Al Gore cartoon at left wouldn't be funny if there wasn't at least a grain of truth in it.

Eric Wilsom may be right that melancholia is an endangered emotion that needs protection. But conservation is a human arena that needs a little more happiness, not less.


Kate said...

I think that we've (as a nation) fallen into the trap that we think everything has to be smiles and pink unicorns all the time. I really believe it's more important to have balance that means pride when we do "good" and repentance when we do "bad". Prozac and other antidepressants given to the "worried well" (used to treat non-clinical depression or normal sadness) really warps the perception.

I don't think negative reactions, sadness, etc... necessarily cause paralysis. Sometimes it's a powerful motivator. Of course, doom and gloom goes a bit too far at times, and people who are ill equipped to deal with reality are going to be overwhelmed by some of the harsh realities about what we've done to our planed.

One of the problems we've found with anti-depressants is that they can also go too far. Teen suicides are a problem on antidepressants because a) teens weren't tested with the drugs, and the dosages can't be verified, and b) many teens with normal developmental depression (teen angst) are drugged up and sent to unrealistic happy land.

Let me share with you my own experience. A few years back I had chronic nausea and pain. The doctor, who ran no tests but knew I was teaching in a very violent inner city school figured it was depression and ordered Lexapro. As it turned out, it was a helicobactor infection, but that's neither here nor there.

My own experience is that while I was on Lexapro, I didn't give a flip about ANYTHING. I felt great, and I didn't want to go to work, to deal with the kids, and threw out my bills because I just didn't want to deal with them. I also started thinking suicide was a viable option to the pain in my stomach and my rough job, because after all, I didn't give a flip and if anyone else did it was their problem.

I recognized that the thoughts were increasingly dangerous on the drug, stopped taking it, and went to another doctor who properly diagnosed my problems and set me on a course of antibiotics and anti-depressants.

What worries me is that having experience in the mental health field I've run into a lot of mentally healthy individuals who really believe that any sort of sadness, regret, or fear is clinical in nature,and needs to be treated with drugs.

As for the conservation industry, yes, I agree that after reading your blogs and your examples, it seems it lacks balance. I myself haven't experienced that lack of balance, and I wonder how much of the untrained public is aware of the imbalance... or if only the negative message is sinking in because it has prodded some people into activity.

Does not having a balanced emotional range put society at risk? My experience with anti-depressants and my 10 years of experience advocating for families and children with mental health crises would lead me to say "yes".

HOWEVER, I also think that the media discussion around anti-depressants may well be another of those doom and gloom analysis not unlike your conservation issues, since while the numbers of worried well using psychiatric medication (especially anti-depressants and stimulants used to treat ADHD) I don't think it's time to panic yet, and what's needed is education about normal emotional ranges in human beings and to stop all this constant "feel good no matter what you do" self esteem training that leaves people with no ability to self-gauge wrong behavior.

Anonymous said...

I'm more concerned about the effect of Prozac on marine species, as pharmaceutical pollution increases.

Anonymous said...

I found your post through Carnival of the Green and am glad I did. As someone who takes antidepressants, and needs to be on them, I agree with you that depression is paralyzing. I doubt I'd be blogging about environmental issues or caring about anything but how bad I felt if it weren't for a certain "miracle" pill. That said, I can see that antidepressants prescribed for people who really don't need them could cause folks to become manic or not to care, as was the experience of the first commenter. I haven't read the book you refer to, but I do believe that there needs to be some balance between feeling our natural sadness for what is happening to our planet and having enough energy and hope to do something about it.

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