19 November 2007

Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you...

Well, having emulated Amanda and done a quick test, it seems that my blog isn't suitable for children. Apparently there are far too many mentions of death, torture, and hell on it. Oh well.

For what it's worth, yes, I'm aware that this Ratings Sticker ought to have been red, but I've become accustomed to this blog being rendered entirely in shades of grey. And you guys have probably gotten equally used to squinting at the screen. If you haven't, you obviously haven't watched Bladerunner or Angel nearly enough, and should remedy the situation by either watching said film and show, or by highlighting any chunks of text with which your feeble eyes might be struggling. Try it. It works.

Anyway, I was a bit disturbed to read an article today, in between working and telling people not to worry about how, about how - to a certain extent - the field of psychiatry has been corrupted by pharmaceutical corporations in search of new markets and applications for their products. I couldn't help but be troubled by the story of how, back in 2002, GlaxoSmithKline recruited a famous Miami Dolphins running back to confess on the Oprah Winfrey show that he suffered from crippling shyness.
In this instance Cohn & Wolfe [The PR arm of GSK], whose other clients have included Coca-Cola, Chevron Texaco, and Taco Bell, was using an athlete to help create a belief that shyness, a common trait that some societies associate with good manners and virtue, constitutes a deplorably neglected illness. Given the altruistic aura of the occasion, it would have been tasteless to have Ricky Williams display a vial of Paxil on the spot. But later (before he was suspended from the football league for ingesting quite different drugs), a GSK press release placed his name beneath this boilerplate declaration:

"As someone who has suffered from social anxiety disorder, I am so happy that new treatment options, like Paxil CR, are available today to help people with this condition."
This isn't to say that depression isn't a real and truly debilitating condition, but I don't think it's unreasonable to argue that it is overdiagnosed nowadays, and this tendency to overdiagnose is almost certainly exacerbated by clever marketing by pharmaceutical companies. In the U.K. this has reached a point where national figures seem to indicate that as many as six million adults of working age suffer from depression at any one time and where in England 31 million prescriptions for antidepressants were issued in 2006 alone! Can so many people really be seriously ill? Isn't it possible that some of them are just, well, sad? After all, when an overstretched health service means that countless diagnoses are made in just a few minutes, there's a fair chance that more than a handful of them are wrong, surely?

There was a fine article in the Irish Independent a few weeks ago, reprinting an old interview from the Telegraph with the late Dr Anthony Clare. Somehow I've contrived to never hear Clare on the radio, but I've found Depression and How to Survive It, his popular analysis of clinical depression - and indeed manic depression - co-written with Spike Milligan and illustrated with reference to Milligan's own illness, to be fascinating, enlightening, and utterly harrowing.

As I was saying, the interview is certainly worth a look, not least because in attempting to explore what constitutes happiness, he says a lot - implicitly or explicitly - about sadness, depression, and unrealistic expectations. And under pressure he gives a seven-step guide to life.
"Okay. Here goes. Number one: cultivate a passion. It is important in my model of happiness to have something that you enjoy doing. The challenge for a school is to find every child some kind of passion -- something that will see them through the troughs. That's why I'm in favour of the broadest curriculum you can get.

"Number two, be a leaf on a tree. You have to be both an individual -- to have a sense that you are unique and you matter -- and you need to be connected to a bigger organism -- a family, a community, a hospital, a company. You need to be part of something bigger than yourself. A leaf off a tree has the advantage that it floats about a bit, but it's disconnected and it dies.

"The people who are best protected against certain physical diseases -- cancer, heart disease, for example -- in addition to doing all the other things they should do, seem to be much more likely to be part of a community, socially involved. If you ask them to enumerate the people that they feel close to and would connect and communicate with, those with the most seem the happiest and those with least, the unhappiest.

"Of course, there may be a circular argument here. If you are a rather complicated person, people may avoid you. If, on the other hand, you are a centre of good feeling, people will come to you. I see the tragedy here in this room where some people sit in that chair and say they don't have many friends and they're quite isolated and unhappy, and the truth is they are so introspective they've become difficult to make friends with. Put them in a social group and they tend to talk about themselves. It puts other people off.

"So that's my third rule: avoid introspection.

"Number four, don't resist change. Change is important. People who are fearful of change are rarely happy. I don't mean catastrophic change, but enough to keep your life stimulated. People are wary of change, particularly when things are going reasonably well, because they don't want to rock the boat, but a little rocking can be good for you. It's the salt in the soup. Uniformity is a tremendous threat to happiness, as are too much predictability, control and order. You need variety, flexibility, the unexpected, because they'll challenge you.

"Five, live for the moment. Look at the things that you want to do and you keep postponing. Postpone less of what you want to do, or what you think is worthwhile. Don't be hide-bound by the day-to-day demands. Spend less time working on the family finances and more time working out what makes you happy. If going to the cinema is a pleasure, then do it. If going to the opera is a pain, then don't do it.

"Six, audit your happiness. How much of each day are you spending doing something that doesn't make you happy? Check it out and if more than half of what you're doing makes you unhappy, then change it. Go on. Don't come in here and complain. People do, you know. They come and sit in that chair and tell me nothing is right. They say they don't like their family, they don't like their work, they don't like anything. I say, 'Well, what are you going to do about it?'

"And, finally, Gyles, if you want to be happy, Be Happy. Act it, play the part, put on a happy face. Start thinking differently. If you are feeling negative, say, 'I am going to be positive,' and that, in itself, can trigger a change in how you feel."

The professor slaps his hands on his desk and laughs. "That's it."

"And it works?"

"Well, it's something for the fridge door. Try it and see."

I don't think there'd be room for that on our fridge. There are too many magnets on the cursed thing. Let's just say that you wouldn't want to be our kitchen with facial piercings.


Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

Having known someone who seemed just another geek to me yet was given diagnosis of some disorder or syndrome or other, one of my pet peeves is how a lot of things that in olden times would have been considered merely personality are now given labels and drugs.

That this might be driven in part by the drug makers wanting to make a buck, though, is rather disturbing. Not only does it actually sound rather plausible, but the question of how to fix it is tricky. On the one hand, it shows the downside of the whole free market idea. On the other hand, I wouldn't trust a large government with it any more than the free market, knowing how bureaucracies can be. So I am left with the question: who can we trust with it? I suppose the answer is to find a way to make it fundamentally dependent on the most local government possible, where you and I have the most direct influence. That actually sounds, incidentally, rather Distributist, to base it on the local stuff spread out across the land rather than on any big or centralized thing. Hmm...

Amanda said...

Rated R! I didn't get anywhere close to that and I regularly reference my vibrator and swear! I am going to go back to my blog and sulk for a bit now.