Sunday, November 14, 2010

Could We All Just Stop Pretending We Know About Major Depression if We Don't?

Once a month G. or I have to go to a parents' meeting at the Catholic Church.

So this year they had a parishioner lead the first class of the year, and then asked him to do it permanently. He's a nice guy, a dad, and he tries to bring in real-life examples of his kids and family and trying to be good Christians. He reads the day's Bible passage aloud, then tells us what he thinks it means. There's not really any discussion, we just listen to this guy and his train of thought on the message for an hour, then if we're lucky there are doughnuts and coffee in the hall.

Last week (I forgot what the point of the lesson was about - I think it was "we should all pray" again), he said, "You know, sometimes people feel bad and they just start taking these antidepressants, and those mess with your emotions, when what I do, is I just go over there," pointing to the church, "and pray and look for answers there."

Aw, crap. It's the famous "if you were stronger/more faithful/less of a pansy you wouldn't need anti-depressants" argument. We've all heard it. I've gotten into arguments with family members over it. People (who usually aren't in the field) begin spouting all this stuff about how meds mess up your mind: They make you foggy, screw up your emotions, change your personality. It's all a big conspiracy by the pharmaceutical companies. By the way, why don't I hear ever hear this argument about manufacturers of pain relievers or chemotherapy drugs? It's always the companies making anti-depressants (or ADHD drugs) who are especially evil and want everyone medicated and sedated in their quest for world domination.

When I've unwillingly found myself in this argument with someone who's usually talking out of their ass, I've resorted to, "You're an engineer (or whatever), right? And I'm a psychologist. Which one of us do you think knows more about psychotropic medication, hmmm? And just so you know, I've never received as much as a Post-It notepad from any pharmaceutical company, so just don't even go there."

So that morning, I looked around at the people in the room at this parent's meeting, and wondered who who took antidepressants that morning. I know I did, and I would bet money there were at least two other people in the room who were taking them as well. I wondered if they registered what the leader had said or if it just floated past them, like so many comments that float around us all the time about depression and mental illness.

I had a young man in my office recently who told me, "No offense, but I think this psychology stuff is bullshit." Really, Dude-With-1-Semester-of-Community-College -Psychology-Under-Your-Belt? (aside: Does anyone else get told the entire field of study of their Ph.D. is bullshit? Just curious, not bitter...not bitter at all. I mean, it's not like my dissertation was on Area 51). So this guy's mother was seriously depressed and he was convinced that it was because she was just weak. He gets depressed, sometimes, sure, but he pulls himself out of it. He was getting annoyed with her and believed she just needed to "move on."

Here was a kid who thought he knew everything at 20, which I understand. So I gently educated him about depression and anti-depressants and he listened. He finally agreed that it might help more if he was supportive of his mother and stopped telling her to snap out of it. He did agree that telling her to snap out of it hadn't worked thus far. I was relieved, because that's really all I was asking of him.

So my question now is, do I say something to the leader of this parent's class, or not? I think I have to. I think I have a duty to confront the stigma. I'm not an activist, and there are very brave souls who are really working to change the stigma of seeking help for mental health reasons, but that's not where my energy has gone. But I wish I'd said something that day. Honestly, I'm so used to these views being thrown around that I didn't even really register that I could say something until I'd already left to pick up the boys.

I don't care at all what he thinks about my taking meds, because I'm sooo over caring what people think about my being on anti-depressants, but I know for a fact that there are many poor souls who have suffered for years before finally realizing they could indeed feel a whole lot better on anti-depressants. Many of these people have told me they wished they'd tried meds years earlier and then have to grieve the loss of all that time lost to depression. And those people shouldn't have to feel that here's another person, in a position of authority, although I doubt he looks at it that way, who also thinks they should have been able to do it on their own. I have no problem with this guy having that opinion in private, but if he's in front of a roomful of parents he doesn't really know, perhaps he should learn to keep it to himself. I'm guessing it didn't even occur to him. We all have to think before we speak.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Amazon, Don't Make Me Boycott You Right Before Christmas

So there was this maelstrom on Twitter today that was picked up by media and bloggers everywhere. Someone found a self-published book, "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure," being sold as an e-book on, and raised a ruckus. For some, the fact that it was available on the site at all led them to call for a boycott of Amazon. (update: the book's page on Amazon is now a 404 message; not clear if it's just down or if they're really removing it from stock).

So Amazon responded, in part, with: “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”

OK...except that it's not censorship for an outlet to refuse to sell an offensive book, just like it's not censorship when sponsors pull out of Dr. Laura's radio show. No one's coming to arrest this guy, or Amazon, for selling a despicable manuscript. No one's saying he doesn't have the right to be, well, despicable. (For a more in-depth look on why this isn't censorship or book-banning, see Backpacking Dad. Actually, see Backpacking Dad for all your logical rhetoric.)

Today I've been watching the back-and-forth between bloggers on this issue.

We as a society have a responsibility to protect our children. I also think we do a lousy job of it. Maybe I'm overly sensitive to it since my profession involves trying to heal abused children, but actually, I think most of y'all are in denial about how prevalent physical, emotional and sexual child abuse is.

Here we have a how-to manual on how to victimize a child, and how to get away with it. This is not a gray area. This is not a treatise on how incest and child brides have historical relevance and should therefore be considered normal. I'm sorry, but this is not an idea that deserves to be protected. And, as Backpacking Dad also points out, for the slippery slope argument to work, you have to prove that the slope is slippery, not that it's there.

Wringing your hands and asking, "But where does it end? Are we going to ban the Bible too because some people find it offensive?" is as ridiculous as wondering if gay marriage will lead to people marrying animals.

I am not in favor of banning books or restricting free speech, and on the whole I respect booksellers who try to offer as wide a selection as possible. If Amazon really believed in that, they'd sell porn. But I also believe there is a greater principle here, and that protecting children from anyone who'd buy a how-to manual on child molestation is more important than worrying about the rights of Philip R. Greaves II to sell it.

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