Anti-depressants — race, class, privilege?

Are you on meds?

Check out this statistic —  Nearly 20 % of Americans have been prescribed anti-depressants this past year.  Almost twice as many white people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs than African Americans and Latinos;  Asian Americans account for only 5 % of the total; I didn’t see the stats for Far Eastern and Middle Eastern  adults, which is interesting to note as well.

Okay…the cost.  Maybe this just comes down to affordability– pure income statistic/economic class numbers.   But I don’t think that’s the whole picture.

In the late 70s,  most of my pals in my university world went regularly to “therapy.”  Thank you Woody Allen for this phenomenon…

annie hall

It was just what smart, nervous people did.  We ate our sprouts, our frozen yogurt, and went to our therapist, all in an average week.   Even though millions of folks still trundle off for the weekly sessions,  let’s face it, nowadays, a huge number of folks are skirting off to the pharmacy instead.

But the advances in psychopharmacology also do not give us the whole picture.

Before I write another word:  I’m all for necessary drugs…”necessary” is the key sticking point here.  But this  post is not about how we define mental illness or the drug companies profit-driven models, or even the prevalence of a cultural malaise…I love all those subjects of course, so let’s do those another time…

I’m talking about the privilege  to be depressed these days,  the privilege to take time off “for yourself.”  Why and how is this a cultural construct of sorts?   Do white people get cultural “cred” for getting sick?  There’s a pretty strong link between education and the diagnoses of depression and anxiety too.  Dare we open Pandora’s box and look into that devilish expectation/disappointment ratio?   Are we seeing the 21st Century version of “mommy’s little helper” from the white, suburban 1950s housewife days?




Published by rachellepell

Not like Picasso. I am no genius. Not Matisse or Kadinksi. In fact, would rather stay invisible, but I have to reveal what I'm That means work. I can also play. but fuck one likes to play much anymore. not here on the Internet. That's okay with me. I'm just trying to live and learn. and Like it.

3 thoughts on “Anti-depressants — race, class, privilege?

  1. You raise a valid question, or rather a series of them, but I think the answers are complicated. Some of the data suggests that being depressed or anxious or whatever is not a feature of class–whether you get treatment is. Moreover, many people have had problems for a long time, but social stigma kept them from seeking treatement. Most importantly, my experience is that we live lives that are indeed stressful and anxiety-producing. Whether medication is the best response is questionable. In teaching Buddhist philosophy, my students give me a lot of push-back to the “no mind-altering substances” tenet. When I explain the reasoning behind it, there is even more resistence. The idea that if your life is so stressful, so anxiety-producing that you “need” or want a drink (or drugs) as an indicator that you need to change your life or mind (as a Buddhist would argue) is anathema. No, what we need to do is just live it and use some level of medication to simply survive it. I disagree with this acceptance.

    However, I also believe that there are times when medical interventions are needed and appropriate. When I went through menopause, my hot flashes and night sweats produced insomnia that was so debilitating that hormones and sleep meds were absolutely necessary (after my doctor and I tried everything else). It took five years to step down and off the hormones, and another three for the sleep meds, but today, I am down to a time-release melatonin to help me stay asleep (I wake up very easily, and once awake, have difficulty sleeping). I also have a friend who has clinical depression who would commit suicide if not for her meds. Some of these needs are short-term, and some of them are long term.

    At the moment, I am having a very hard time dealing with my son’s death, and on my really bad days, I think about whether drugs can help. I’m avoiding alcohol–having a couple glasses of wine or a couple beers feels ok, but then as it wears off, I am more depressed. I was also self-medicating with sugar (chocolate mostly) to feel up and energized, but I finally hit a weight wall, and I spent the last month cleaning out my diet (while struggling not to succumbing to depresssion). I haven’t gone down a meds path not because I don’t deserve treatment or because its shaming but because I know that this is grief. Being in this wilderness sucks, but drugs won’t get me out of here.

    I don’t think getting treatment is necessarily privilege–sadly, it can be. That is, people who need help don’t get it for all those socioculturaleconomic reasons. But more sadly, we are incapable of rejecting this lifestyle that is killing us.


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