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Chemicals can’t change feelings

Life – a disease? Sadness – an illness? Doctors – omniscient?
Sad, unhappy, frustrated, stressed, lonely, poor, fed up, bored? ‘Take two of these and call me in the morning.'

A caricature? Maybe, but labels are pinned, addictive drugs are prescribed as another disease is invented.

Integral to the human condition, feelings are signs of life – a person without feelings does not exist. Yet too often feelings become symptoms of illness. Sure, some are very ill. It's the millions who are not ill, yet are labelled and drugged and taught dependency, that we fail.

Let's just remind ourselves: laudanum, barbiturates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, hypnotics, triazolam, cyclopyrrolone, oxycodone, Prozac, tranquillisers, chlordiaze-poxide, dextropropoxyphene and so on. Prescribing runs amok. Unhappiness labelled depression. We know all this, yet we perpetuate the myth that chemicals can safely mitigate feelings.

A third of the population regard themselves as having some form of mental distress, and just under a quarter seek medical assistance from their GP. But the core practice of medicine is diagnosis and management of disease of the body, and GPs want to do what they were trained to do.

In Western society, the notion has grown that basic human rights include freedom from unwanted feelings and that health professionals should provide help to alleviate perceived distress. This has led to an exponential rise in expectations. Provision of such services is both unsustainable (we can't do it), immoral (we shouldn't do it) and futile (it won't work anyway).

So, how do we fix it? Well, every effort needs to be made to halt, counter and eventually reverse the notion of the right ‘not to be unhappy.' We must recognise our limitations, re-educate our patients, lobby Government, admit our failings, and cease the false assurance that we can control the emotions of everyday life. Life is not a disease, sadness is not an illness, and we are not omniscient.

From a GP in a large London practice
Name and address supplied