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If you were stuck in a hole, wouldn't you be sad?


Some friends and I once made up a game called “Worst case scenarios”. We would compare our fears and then try to work out how we would cope should they be realised. For me it was waking up and finding I had been transported to the top of Nelson’s Column.

How scary would that be? I don’t have anything against Nelson but it would be very hard to climb down off that hat wouldn’t it? You’d have to wait for a helicopter or something and how often do they fly past looking for bemused stranded people in pyjamas?

More conventional fears included being inside a car when it is put in one of those car squashing machines, and being buried alive. Oh, what fun loving young things we were!

‘Depression is on the rise - in fact I nearly caught it last Thursday when I missed a train. Well it was a bit like depression, for a few moments anyway’

It is hard to imagine the experience of the Chilean miners stuck 700m underground and told they may not be freed before Christmas. That sort of darkened isolation, and the accumulated lack of movement and food would be unbearable for many of us.

But I suppose if anyone can be prepared for such deprivation, these men, who have been working underground for years, are as close to it as you are likely to find. So I was surprised when I read that the first thing that had been suggested to be sent down to these stranded men was antidepressants. Not books, not beer, but drugs. In fact drugs that exist to artificially change the prevailing mood of the person who takes them.

Does it make sense to try to artificially lift the mood of a group of people in a difficult situation? In doing so we are surely removing their emotions from their reality? I think if I was in a hole underground for the next three months with people who kept singing the national anthem I would be a bit depressed - but I think that would be an appropriate response and thus not one that required drugs.

The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, which outlines diagnoses for psychiatric conditions, now includes recurrent sadness as a criteria for depression and, as a consequence, prescribing antidepressants. To put it another way - being human is a mental illness. It seems that depression is on the rise - in fact I nearly caught it last Thursday when I missed a train. Well it was a bit like depression, for a few moments anyway.

Our unending drive to diagnose, label and then treat either with drugs or some other manifestation of expertise surely corrodes the human condition. Sometimes we are sad because being happy all the time is unsustainable. And sometimes when bad things happen, feeling miserable makes sense. Indeed feeling it and managing those feelings is healthy.

Taking away corners of the human condition with drugs is actually oppressive. Aldous Huxley wrote about it and many of us know it.

I hope the Chilean miners emerge soon and I hope that when they do they are healthy. But I also hope that someone asks them what they need before convention decides what is best without even giving them chance to get their hats off. Because sometimes throwing expertise at people’s experience is an excuse not to listen or learn. Isn’t it?


Readers' comments (2)

  • bob cat

    Great piece Mark, thankyou. Helps me breathe a sigh of relief internally.

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  • fab article

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