Have you ever wondered why the suicide rate in Ethiopia is almost zero? How bizarre. I recently stumbled on to this statistic and it just blew my mind. (No pun intended.) I can't help but wonder why it is that here, in America, the land of opportunity; people are killing themselves by the tens-of-thousands. Meanwhile on the other side of the world in a hopelessly desolate, hunger-stricken, 3rd world nation, manic-depressives do not exist.
Maybe it's not so surprising though. According to The National Institute of Mental Health's official website, an estimated 1 out of every 5 people in America have some type of diagnosable mental illness, ranging from manic-depressives to binge-eating to social anxiety disorder. An astonishing 2 million children in the U.S. are prescribed Ritalin for A.D.D or A.D.H.D. perhaps you know a few of these kids, I know several in my small town alone. So one must ask: Why are we so screwed up? Is it necessary for us to drug ourselves to solve this problem?
I believe that we are not born with mental illnesses like bulimia, depression, anorexia, binge-eating, or social anxiety. These illnesses develop over time as a result of specific behavior and thought patterns. These patterns may or may not be the direct result of environmental stimuli. Current research is implying that we have the power to heal our own mental afflictions. With a bit of self-control one could alter their behavior and thought patterns. We know this is within everyone's capabilities. The real surprise is what results from this could be a complete change in the chemical balance of neurons in the brain.
Here is a quick lesson in what we know about the human mind. More specifically, a brief explanation of how our thought patterns are formed and personality traits solidified.
After birth, the human brain is a fury of neural connections and brain cells migrating and repositioning. This occurs when our early minds respond to environmental stimuli or input. Neural pathways then become established throughout the brain. These neural pathways are the communication lines that our brains depend on for signaling responses to stimuli. Here is an example of that process: Our brains shift in response to environmental input, then further shift in response to the results from our own response. Each time we respond a specific neural pathway is used for that response. Each time we respond in the same manor, or the more frequently we use that neural pathway, the more engrained it becomes and the more easily that response can be triggered. Sometimes neural pathways can become so engrained that they can almost block higher level, more logical thought processes. The opposite effect occurs when neural pathways go unused for extended periods of time: a Darwinian process of elimination takes place where those unused connections are subsequently destroyed. This engraining and neural pruning is most active between the ages of two and ten. The result is a human brain whose wiring is for better or worse, completely unique.
Current research supports the idea that our neural pathways are not fixed or locked in. They can be altered even into adulthood. So why not try and rewire our own hardware? For example: Suppose you suffer from depression. Try to smile more often. This may sound like a stupid solution but those neural pathways that signal your facial muscles to smile are wired-in with the same neural pathways that signal feelings of happiness. A more effective solution is to force yourself into thinking positive thoughts in every situation, even if it's insincere. This positive thinking if consistently applied, will create a thought pattern that is more easily triggered. Eventually your pessimistic and negative thought patterns will subside.
Here of an example of an experience I've had with altering my own "wiring". A few years back, I struggled with a short attention span and a bad memory. It affected me mostly when I was reading. I would read a few pages and upon reflection, find that I had retained almost no information about what I had read. In order to correct this problem I decided to try this: I would only read a few sentences, maybe a small paragraph. I then would summarize to myself what I had just read. I would repeat this process for a few weeks gradually increasing the amount of material that I would read in-between my summaries. By the time that I finished my book, there was no need to summarize. The material I was reading, I was remembering. This is what happened: By pausing to reflect on my reading every few seconds, I forced those neural pathways associated with short-term memory to become more engrained and consequently, short-term memory was more easily triggered.
But why not just call the ol'doctor and pick up a prescription. I could have been easily diagnosed with A.D.D. But would Ritalin really fix the problem? Let me give you a little allegory:
One morning you wake up to find that your battery in your car is dead. You try to jump-start it several times unsuccessfully. Finally you conclude that the battery is no good and must be replaced. Problem solved right? The following week you awake to the same problem, dead battery, won't hold a charge. Once again you replace it with a new one. The following week the same problem occurs, so you decide to investigate. You discover that a ground wire under the hood has come loose. This is causing the batteries to short out. What would you do? Keep buying batteries every week? Or fix the root of the problem: the loose ground wire.
To you and I this seems like a no-brainer. You should fix the ground. However in the real world a similar situation is going on with anti-depressants, social anxiety medication, Ritalin and other prescription drugs. If I am depressed and prescribed some happy pill, then I'm only going to treat the symptoms of the real issue. Or in other words I'll just keep on buying a new battery every week.
Unlike my car scenario, the repercussions of taking medication are more severe. Dependency is likely. A sense of helplessness without medication is almost certain. Today's society would love to have you believing that you can't cure these problems or that depression is some disease and it's out of your hands. Bullshit! This type of psychiatric propaganda is what is wrong with our society! This is why 30,000 Americans kill themselves each year. Our society and culture puts way too much emphasis on happiness. The seemingly harmless idea that every individual has the right to pursue happiness has been twisted into a cultural obsession. Every day the prescription drug industry pushes insecurity on the general population. You've seen the ads on T.V. They want you to question your stability. They want you to question yourselves until you feel like something's wrong. Don't let your children grow up thinking they're helpless victims of there own emotions.
The truth is, we all feel sad, insecure, bad, negative, angry, but how you manage your emotions is your responsibility and not some pills. PARENTS! Teach you children how to control their emotions and feelings. When I see some 10-year-old kid on Ritalin looking like a zombie, I can't help but feel like this is just the by-product of parental laziness. How can we ever expect a young child to learn to cope with his emotional roller coaster, or his learning differences, if his issues are avoided? What a message to send your kid, 'hey son take this pill because something is wrong with your mind', and we then expect this kid to grow up feeling like he's normal. Granted there are some individual who do need medication for mental illness, but I believe the overwhelming majority of people need to stop treating symptoms with pills, and go after the cause of their problems.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit."-Aristotle