Imagine a world where medication didn’t exist. Would people be better off? Medication has complicated our mind and bodies and there is no turning back. When we don’t feel “normal”, we can run to our primary care doctor and demand that they prescribe us something to get us back on our feet. But, what is “normal”? If medication were non-existent, would we be able to defeat whatever plagued us with our own mind and bodies? Would whatever didn’t kill us, make us stronger? Would it make future generations stronger and more tolerable of these mind-altering states?
In today’s society, we often have a prescription for what is “normal”. Today, if our mood or behavior deviates from our sense of normalcy, we put substances in our bloodstreams to alter the brain pathways to bring us back to this “normal state”. As Andrew Solomon states in his article entitled “Anatomy of Melancholy”, “the use of anti-depressants is going up as people seek to normalize what used to be deemed normal”. Solomon states that the physiological supermodel, like a real-life supermodel, has damaged our images of ourselves in that people are “constantly examining their own minds and rejecting their own moods”. He also states that there “needs to be recognition that what may well be a rising tide of depression is related to the fact that basic social and psychological needs are not being met”. Solomon makes some excellent points. But does this mean that there are basic needs that we must have met in order to feel “normal” or do we think that we must have these needs met in order to act in congruence to the normal-person model?
Solomon also raises the question as to whether antidepressants really function the way we think they function. He poses the question, “Are they restoring the normal self or are they changing the self?” Like Solomon, people are often on many different medications for depression because the side-effects of one are numerous and dangerous, therefore, they need other medications to treat the side-effects. I believe that these drugs are changing the self. If we need to be sustained from multiple drugs, we have induced a state of dependence and have changed our brain pathways.
From our class discussions and readings on depression, I have become increasingly interested in the ways in which we ameliorate symptoms of depression without altering our brain chemicals. Thus, I am excited about the idea of deep brain stimulation (DBS) as I have become skeptical of the anti-depressant method for treatment as the side effects are numerous and often dangerous. The first news I found on DBS was that just a month ago, neurosurgeons at Heidelberg University Hospital performed DBS on a severely depressed patient and the procedure has proved to be successful! The patient was a 64 year old woman who had been suffering from depression since the age of 18 and had tried every medication and therapy in the book. Today, she is free of those symptoms.
Helen Mayberg, a neurologist, discovered this “practice of putting electrodes into the brain and electrically stimulating at high frequency to calm abnormal hyperactive networks”. She identified an area of the brain, known as Brodmann area 25, or the habenula, located in the diencephalon, that shows to be hyperactive in patients with depression. By stimulating this brain area, neurologists have shown to alleviate the symptoms of depression altogether. I wonder if this cure will sustain over the course of one’s lifetime. Will DBS be the universal cure for symptoms of depression in the future?
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