26 May 2008

Treat depression with brain pacemakers

It's a new frontier for psychiatric illness

Brain pacemakers that promise to act as antidepressants by changing how patients' nerve circuitry fires

Only a few dozen patients with severe depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder so far have been treated in closely monitored studies. Still, the early results are promising.

In reading this article, I was reminded of a science fiction novel I recently finished. Written by Greg Bear in 1997, Slant tells of a possible, not-too-distant future, in which people become so deeply immersed in the electronic information age that civilization reaches a crisis point. Inhabitants of this future world don't know a crisis is unfolding, since it involves the very technology which keeps them submissive to the erosion of their surroundings. Most experiences with other humans are achieved not in person but electronically, by jacking oneself into the 'net. Even sex is not immune.

Which technology is it that keeps people in this future world content and accepting the status quo? It's "therapy" involving surgical adjustments to the brain. Such procedures have become the norm, to the extent that the "non-therapied" are considered the lunatics - the oddballs, malcontents, marginalized - and "normals" are as rare as the dodo. In some cases, the therapy amounts to the ultimate, permanent happy pill: no condition can make the therapied unhappy, even jailing.

A couple of days after finishing Slant, I found myself reading the article in the news, about a surgical procedure to treat depression.

I was appalled, but not surprised.

After all, isn't that where the mental health industry is leading us? Isn't 'mental illness' becoming mainstream and everyday life pathologized?

In present-day society, we have manmade sociocultural, socioeconomic, and physical environmental conditions which are causing people distress. But rather than treating these conditions, we treat (and blame) the human physiology which signals their negative effects on our wellbeing. We insist on adapting humans to their conditions, not the conditions to human need.

This illogical approach is part of governments' lifestyle and individual responsibility mantra. This mantra conveniently ignores the crucial role which the determinants of health play, those determinants being - you guessed it - manmade sociocultural, socioeconomic, and physicial environmental conditions.

One can hardly be expected to adapt if one's lifestyle options have been reduced to zero. Even the power elite seem to have realized this. But rather than taking responsibility for allowing those life-threatening conditions, even promoting them, this same power elite look to their own risk - that of losing power.

Ergo, the masses are encouraged to make a few adjustments to their brains instead, either by means of 'drug therapy' or, soon to come to a psychiatrist near you, surgery. This way they will feel hunky dory while the conditions necessary to sustain their lives fall to ruin around them.

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