Should one million more Brits take anti-depressants?
Is an unhealthy relationship with emotions causing so many people to feel the need to reach for anti-depressants?
I just came across an article on Yahoo News with the headline - 'Antidepressants work, study finds, and a million more British people should take them'. My issue with this article is not against the use of antidepressants, as I appreciate they can prove helpful and people I care about in my close proximity have benefited. I have a problem with the headline saying that people 'should' take them.
Should one million more Brits start taking antidepressants?
Recent stats show a 108% increase in the use of antidepressants in England during the ten-year period from 2006, with nearly 65 million prescriptions handed out in 2016 alone. The researchers behind the report, published in the Lancet, said that their study showed that a million more people in Britain could benefit from the drug. Perhaps they could. But antidepressants are also a bandaid. They are treating the symptoms of sadness. Drugs like prozac should not sit at the heart of any proactive strategy for improving the happiness of humanity. Instead of investing in studying the effects of drugs that treat symptoms, would it not be more beneficial to answer important questions that could resolve the underlying causes of the need for antidepressants, like:
Why are so many people in our present day society so unhappy? What can be done to improve mental health?
The Numbing Effect
Humans have inhabited this planet for around 200,000 years. Yet despite the passing of so many generations, many of us still find it hard to live with major components of being human: namely our mind and emotions. How you relate to your own mind and life plays a major role in the emotions you experience most often. The more you get ‘lost in your thinking mind’ by dwelling on thoughts about the past or future, and the more you are in conflict with life, the more ‘negative’ emotions you will end up feeling.
At the same time, many of us have also been conditioned to have an unhealthy relationship with our emotions, which is a core cause of much stress, struggle and suffering.
As children we are often encouraged to tone down or turn away from the intense emotions that were perceived to be 'negative'. We are also often taught that we should only feel 'positive' emotions. Based upon an unhealthy relationship with emotions, it is common to be conditioned to attempt to avoid the ‘bad’ ones at all cost. This conditioning has led to millions of us fearing certain emotions, habitually resisting and controlling them and engaged in a fight with our feelings. The subsequent suppression of emotions, has lead to many turning to ways to numb themselves from certain emotions rather than use how they feel for positive outcomes.
Common Causes of Chronic Sadness
Through my clinical observations, chronic sadness is commonly a result of thinking patterns based on the themes of lack, limitation, victimhood, comparison, unfairness, wrongness or ‘poor me’. Although it may appear that we are sad because of circumstances, we feel whatever we are thinking about - whether we are aware of the thoughts or not. Quite simply, if you are engaging a sad mind-set, then that is how you will inevitably feel.
Common mind-based causes of sadness include: Resistance to what's happened in the past, the belief that something needs to be better/different, feelings of powerlessness, pointlessness, focusing on what’s wrong, over- comparison, feeling unseen, perceived lack, absence of a compelling life purpose, resisting certain emotions to the point of numbness. When it comes to common thinking patterns, these include: ‘I wish it had not happened that way’, ‘What’s the point?’ ‘Life is difficult’ or ‘Life is unfair’ type-thinking.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting these thinking patterns are only causes of depression. I'm saying that pills tend to only treat the symptoms of sadness, rather than the underlying mind-based causes.
Principles for Improved Mental Health
Through my work I've come across four principles that can help anyone to feel better more often. I don't know anyone who is actively applying these principles and experiencing depression. Warning: They require an open mind and a willingness to explore a healthier relationship with emotions.
Principle 1 - You are not your emotions. What emotion are you currently feeling? Has there ever been a time in your life when this emotion was not present? What has been present the entire time? You know you have emotions because you are aware of them and there has also been a time in your life when the current emotion has not been happening. Anything temporary cannot be you. You are the permanent aspect of your self that doesn’t come and go. So what’s the most permanent aspect of you? Awareness.
Knowing this naturally changes your relationship with emotions. If they are not you, then you can learn to take them less personally. You don’t need to fight with or fear your feelings because you are not the transiting energy passing through, but the vast sky of still awareness that all emotions temporarily exist within. Repeat after me: 'I am the permanent awareness that is aware of temporary emotions'.
Principle 2 - External life does not cause inner emotions. Though it appears emotions are a result of what happens in life, it is not necessarily the case. We feel sad when we are engaging in sad thoughts and feeling our thinking. No person, event or thing has the inherent power to make you feel any which way.
When we accept that external life isn’t the ultimate cause of your ‘negative’ emotions we stop being a victim to circumstance. We also save lots of time, money and effort trying to fix, change and improve our circumstances in order to feel better. Repeat after me: 'I'm feeling what I'm feeling because I'm thinking what I'm thinking'.
Principle 3 - Peace is not the absence of emotions. Emotions don’t need to disappear for you to experience peace. Awareness remains calm and well despite transiting temporary energy. If you are waiting for your emotions to stop so that you can experience a numb void of emotionless peace, then the good news is that your emotions don’t need to go anywhere for you to enjoy consistent calm.
Peace is not the absence of emotions. Peace is what the awareness that is aware of your emotions feels like. In other words, being self-aware, you can experience a sense of inner stillness alongside any temporary emotion. It is not either/or it is both calm and emotions. Repeat after me: 'My awareness is not depressed'.
Principle 4 - You do not want to be emotionless. Emotions are energy in motion. Without energy you’re a goner and with it you are highly likely going to be a go-getter. As long as you are unwilling to experience the full spectrum of emotions, you will be suppressing your vitality. For optimum health you need energy and as far as the body is concerned, all energy is good. Emotions don’t harm the body; it is conflict towards them and life that does. Therefore, to resist emotions is to limit the energy that the body needs to heal and be healthy.
Everything you want in your external life is also made up of energy and requires energy to create. So to improve your life, you really don’t want to be emotionless. Far from it; the more emotional energy, the better. The key is to use your emotions to help you. If you are feeling down about life, then what do you need to say 'no' to and what exciting things do you need to say 'yes' to? Letting the emotional energy be present within you, with no resistance, allows the power of your emotions to rise up and their positive purpose be actualised. Repeat after me: 'I harness the power of my emotions to help me bring about positive changes'.
A More Positive Prescription
I'm obviously not suggesting that one article can help heal the depression epidemic. However, if a million people should do one thing it would be to meditate. Meditation can help you to discover the permanent aspect of your Self that is beyond temporary emotions. By learning to be self-aware [aware of the aspect of your Self that is Aware], you can reconnect with the 'inner peace that is always present', no longer rely on life being 'positive' for you to feel good and harness the power of emotions for positive purposes.
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Article by Sandy C. Newbigging
Sandy is the founder of the Calm Academy and creator of Mind Calm, Body Calm, Calm Cure and Mind Detox techniques - collectively known as Calmology. He’s a meditation teacher, monk and multi-bestselling author.