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Making money out of unhappiness

Global drug corporations have been making make millions out of people’s unhappiness. Now it turns out that the drugs don’t work and the 40 million people taking anti-depressants like Prozac and Seroxat, and the doctors prescribing them, may have been duped.

Professor Irving Kirsch from the University of Hull, has brought together all the research into these drugs – including clinical trials that the manufacturers chose not to publish. He and his colleagues in the US and Canada found that in patients with mild to moderate depression, the effects are no better than taking a placebo. Only the most severely depressed patients seemed to do better, but even that may be because the placebo effect faded, rather than that the drug helped.

Drug companies insist they need their vast profits to invest in research. But in this case, as in many others, it is clear that it is only the profits that matter – the research has been suppressed. The drive for profits has other damaging side-effects. Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BCGI) report that hundreds of medicinal plant species, whose naturally-occurring chemicals make up the basis of over 50% of prescription drugs, are threatened with extinction.

BCGI warns of a global healthcare crisis if action is not taken to halt the decimation of plants, many of whose properties cannot be synthesised. For example the most widely-used cancer drug, Paclitaxel, extracted from the yew tree bark, has defied all attempts to recreate it in the laboratory. But the trees are running out fast. In China’s Yunnan province, once famous for yew forests, 80% of the trees were used up in just three years.

The high consumption approach to health feeds off, emphasises and invents ‘life-style symptoms’ to provide new markets for old and new drugs, whilst millions with treatable diseases like HIV-AIDS and malaria are left to die. Where depression had been rated at 50 cases per million of the population in the early 60s, by the 90s this had jumped to 100,000.

These remarkable changes coincided with the crisis in the market for minor tranquilisers such as Librium and Valium, prescribed for anxiety. As these widely used drugs were found to be highly addictive, it looked as if a substantial market was about to collapse. Hundreds of thousands of people took these drugs and the economic gains were enormous. Anxiety had to be remarketed and new agents found to respond to it. And this is where depression started to really take off as a diagnosis.

To live a happier, healthier life actually means living in opposition to the consumer culture and that is hard to do on your own. We need to join together to take some radical action. We need to make sustainable drugs research a part of socialised health care, taking control of the land and research away from the big corporations, in order to halt the destruction of plants and species. Neither plant species nor we ourselves can survive unless we overcome the alienating rule of the global corporations. We will all feel a lot better if we can have relationships with nature - and with each other - that are not mediated through a profit-making transaction.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
27 February 2008

C* says:

I 2nd the motion, for the idea and the initative, alone. Here's to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: RIGHT ON!! XXXXX
Thanks too, Penny, for drivin it all the way home!!

Dulwich Daisy says:

Whilst I agree with this comment overall, I don't agree the drug companies invented 'life-stye symptoms' and then the drugs to treat them. The WHO says depression is a greater problem in the west than heart disease. Why are people so unhappy? Are they just imagining it?

The drug-consumption approach to mental health is one-sided. It addresses superficial symptoms without considering the whole person, and the way we are forced to live in this increasingly unhealthy society. This "unhealth" problem takes many forms: feelings of inadequacy in the highly-competitive society promoted by the corporations - 'I want it all, I want it now'. Sadness because families break down when troubles overwhelm them. Simple overwork and stress at work. Worries over housing, over money, over looks and 'fitting in'. Passive consumption of TV and computer-generated images. Eating bad food promoted by the supermarkets. Amongst older people in the UK, social class is the main determinant for depression. In young people the commonest cause is worries about weight.

And the New Labour government, which is dismantling the welfare state and replacing it with a market state, cannot tackle these social impacts. Rather their aim is that we human beings should adapt ourselves to the needs of the market, whatever effect that has.

For example, physical exercise is as effective as drugs or psychological treatments in relieving the symptoms of depression. But pupils in UK state schools spend less time on physical education than any of their European counterparts and 70 per cent of British teenagers stop doing any organised sport at 16. Many teachers say this is so pupils can spend more time preparing for New Labour's meaningless testing, designed to turn out a compliant workforce.

It is not possible under these pressures, imposed from above, for people to come up with individual solutions - to "pull themselves together". Happiness is not a frivolous goal - more and more, just as in the American War of Independence, the pursuit of happiness has some revolutionary implications.

I would like to volunteer to be the "Happiness Correspondent" of AWTW, to ensure that this vital issue is taken seriously.

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