Psychiatry Upgraded the Declaration of Independence

According to psychiatry, unhappiness is a medically treatable disease. No need to "pursue" happiness other than by swallowing pills called “antidepressants.”

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The Unalienable Rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The original Declaration of Independence proclaimed that the pursuit of happiness is one of our natural rights, so it’s therefore the role of our government to secure it. This phrase, which came to embody the American spirit, referred to our freedom to put our time, effort, and abilities into actions that we hope will eventually help us achieve some goal that will make us happy. Guaranteeing our right to pursue happiness didn’t guarantee that we would achieve this goal, nor did it guarantee that its achievement would actually bring happiness. It didn’t even guarantee that happiness is an attainable state.

Close-up photo depicting the United States Declaration of Independence

Then came modern psychiatry. Starting around 1990, it began spreading the word that unhappiness has been found to be a medically treatable disease. This fundamentally changed everything: Happiness thereby became an easily/quickly attainable state. No need to work at or accomplish anything – no need to pursue happiness other than by swallowing pills called “antidepressants.” And it became a right guaranteed to us by our government, since Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Health Care Act enable nearly all Americans to have access to medical care.

Woohoo! Thanks to modern medicine, unhappiness has become a thing of the past, just as previous scourges such as tuberculosis, smallpox, and the bubonic plague did before it. Maybe if antidepressants had been around in the 1700s, there wouldn’t have been a Declaration of Independence; the colonists would have been happy and complacent, so there would have been no need to revolt!

The only problem with this “medically treatable disease” idea is this: When all of the outcome data was unearthed and reviewed for all of the antidepressants, it turned out that their benefits were due to the placebo effect rather than their actual chemical effects1. So they’re not really medicines; they might as well be sugar pills.

Oh well. That’s alright, because even if antidepressants are fakes, what really matters is that their usage alleviates suffering. Well…maybe in the short term it can. But it’s been consistently shown that over time, people who take them generally report getting more depressed2. (Perhaps this is because antidepressant users don’t work as hard on their life problems/challenges. What would be the point, once you’ve become convinced that depression is chemical/genetic?)

This could explain why most antidepressant users go from one antidepressant to another3, and why they usually also wind up adding addictive chemicals such as benzodiazepines (like Xanax) and/or opiates4,5. It could also be part of the reason why the suicide6 and overdose rates have steadily climbed ever since “antidepressants” became popular in the 1990s. So they don’t seem to really “treat” anything, either.

At least the ‘brain disease’ idea, with all the universities, medical organizations, government agencies, and professional journals upholding it, must have a firm scientific foundation. It’s been scientifically proven that depression is a type of physical illness, just like diabetes, right?

But if that was true, then why are there still no blood tests, or biological markers of any kind, used to diagnose depression (or any “mental illness”), or to evaluate patients’ progress? There’s just one logical explanation for this: All the intensive, expensive research done over the past half a century has failed to verify the “depression is caused by a chemical imbalance” theory. As much as we hoped it was true, it’s time to accept the reality that it isn’t. Sadness is not a real disease, after all. Maybe it’s just a normal human emotional response. Maybe life is just tough.

Wow. Not medicine, not treatment, not disease. 0 for 3.

I guess we should un-cross out that “the pursuit of” phrase. Biological psychiatry hasn’t really cured unhappiness, so Thomas Jefferson’s original wording still applies. Yet psychiatry’s popularity somehow continues to grow, and as it does, it’s having an ever-strengthening impact on America’s overall ethos, as follows:

Calling unpleasant emotions “medically treatable diseases” leads people to wrongly think that they’re helpless, and that their troubles are purely within themselves. If they think they’re upset due to bad brain chemistry or hardwiring, it’s unlikely they’ll try to address the problems in their personal/work lives (or in their overall society) which are upsetting them. They’ll in effect suppress their own free will. Instead of freely choosing from among infinite possible ways to respond, they’ll blindly submit to authorities (doctors) and strictly obey their orders. They’ll often be given sedatives that further erode their will. So it’s the second unalienable right (liberty) that psychiatry is steadily, insidiously chipping away at.

In the past, few people saw psychiatrists, and those that did were usually forced to. Psychiatrists were feared authoritarians whose involuntary commitments, shackles, tranquilizers, and lobotomies have always been used to restrict their patients’ rights and liberty. Maybe that’s why they once were called alienists. Isn’t our culture’s broadening voluntary embrace of psychiatry a threat to our democracy?

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Kirsch, I “The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth” Basic Books, New York, 2010.
  2. Whitaker, R “Do Antidepressants Work: A People’s Review of the Evidence” Madinamerica.com, 3-11-18.
  3. “How Many Antidepressants Have You Tried?” Depressionforums.org, Kaitrin, Online Survey started Aug 15, 2004.
  4. Gatchel, R, et al “Etiology of Chronic Pain and Mental Illness: How to Assess Both” Prac Pain Man, Nov 2011, 11,9.
  5. Davis, M “Prescription Opioid Use Among Adults with Mental Health Disorders in the United States” J Am Board Fam Med, June 2017, 30(4)407-17.
  6. Hedegaard, H, et al “Increase in Suicide Mortality in the United States 1999-2018” CDC, NCHS Data Brief No. 362, Apr 2020.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Usually, you’re funnier, and more poignant. But thank you, as always, Lawrence, for speaking the truth.

    Psychiatrists still are “feared authoritarians whose involuntary commitments, shackles, tranquilizers, and lobotomies have always been used to restrict their patients’ rights and liberty.”

    “All men are created equal” is the opposite of what the DSM “bible” dictates, since it’s just a book of scientifically “invalid” stigmatizations.

    Plus, correct me if I am wrong, but I’ve thought the fact that the antipsychotics are dopamine antagonists. And the fact that the psychiatrists are forcing them on people, with full knowledge that decreasing dopamine takes away “happiness,” is highly un-American.

  2. Dr. Kelmenson: First I had to look up where Cold Spring was and then Cold Spring Harbor for to ponder the meaning of James Watson and Francis’s Crick’s work along with the earlier funders from the horse racing business. In becoming severely depressed in my first job, after college the challenge to realize a value and values search took me into the midnight hour. In having the situation explained by the Dr. Uncle, the resolution of the problem would occur, but then in following his suggestions, “To Live Like There is No Tomorrow”, the pendulum swung into the space lacking self-control.

    Secondly, I would be curious about the numbers that go along with thermodynamics and those that went with the creation of money and wealth. During this time period, a conflict with Iran was occurring and Felix Rohatyn was working desperately to save New York City from default. And I would write a letter to Norman Cousins regarding the concept of energy. He would write back a letter in response with a comment about leadership.

    Third, the plan and architecture For LIFE seemingly holds a different number flow and orientation towards better human behavior, if we are wanting to witness real recovery in respect to the universal.

    Thus, if you challenge the pursuit of happiness, which now as an artist, the paradox of trying to pursue the vanishing point while invoking the Artist’s Gaze, seems to be an invitation into or beyond, to experience the altered states of reality. There is nothing artificial about this intelligence as some attempt to hijack the thought systems; but would our Declaration have been better if the words conveyed the concept of being happy? To just, BE! Too Just Be Happy!

    Becoming happy may not even need the pursuit, when there are better questions posed by doctors and patients, though there seems to be issues of Power at work, in the scales of relationship when one visits any doctor. How do you sense/create the appropriate response?

  3. I have 3 main arguments for you, Lawrence. And I have a feeling that you will AGREE with all 3!
    1:The “chemical imbalance” theory of so-called “mental illnesses” is NOT the work of any scientist, researcher, etc. It came staight out of the MARKETING DEPARMENT of the pharmaceutical industry. *THINK*! *WHY* is there no scientist or researcher’s NAME attached to such a profound THEORY. And, a theory, I submit, HAS BEEN DISPROVEN….???…
    2.Among other such learned thinkers, the Dalai Lama of Tibet speaks of 2 kinds of happiness: “Dependent”, and “Independent”. Dependent happiness is a “conditional”, with an implied “if-then”. For example, in dependent happiness, “I will be happy, IF I win the lottery”. So in this example, the person’s happiness is DEPENDENT upon them winning the lottery. We are conditioned to believe that we will ONLY be happy IF certain conditions are met. And, therefore, that IF we meet these conditions, THEN we will be happy. But conditions always are changing, and so we are constantly made unhappy when new, unhappy conditions arise. INDEPENDENT happiness, which Buddhism teaches, means that you are happy because you are happy. You have decided that a happy state of mind is best, and so you practice daily to attain, and maintain that happy state of mind. Today, I remain a happy man. A large part of my happiness involves the fact that my experience with the pseudoscience drug racket of psychiatry is now far in my PAST!
    3. Acceptance of psychiatry as a legitimate medical science continues to lose ground in popular culture. Look at all the shrinks decrying those evil “anti-psychiatry” forces! Why do you NEVER hear of those “anti-oncology” people? Or those “anti-neurology” people? If psychiatry truly had the (illegitimate) legitimacy it delusionally believes, then they could safely ignore the “anti-psychiatry” people!
    4.Not enough people know about “Rockefeller medicine”. To perhaps over-simplify, Rockefeller & cronies, billionaire tycoons all, gained control of medical school curriculums in America, to instead turn out allopathic doctors loyal to the “drugs treat diseases” medical model. VERY PROFITABLE drugs made from dirt-cheap petroleum oil….*THINK* about what I’m saying here….
    There are a few historical events & patterns that are first needed to be understood, in order to understand the massive CON JOB pulled on humanity by the super-rich, and by quack psychiatrists, in particular….
    “Psychiatry is a PSEUDOSCIENCE, a DRUG RACKET, and a mechanism of SOCIAL CONTROL.”
    Psychiatry is FRAUD. Period. End of discussion. We can’t toss psychiatry on the scrap-heap of history fast enough…. Will you join me in this noble effort?….

  4. 300 or so years is a long time in the history of any word, including “happiness”

    Happiness, in a modern sense, bears pretty much no relation to the happiness referred to in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s use is implying a life of moral virtue. Happiness these days is definitely not about the pursuit of moral virtue.

    This is why, some claim, so many people are unhappy. At the heart of their unhappiness is an immorality, a selfishness, a corrupt individualism, which inevitably leaves them cold, bitter, angry, unsatisfied, and amiss.

    These days the pursuit of happiness is equated with the pursuit of things, of consuming, of lasciviousness, of fakery. It is the pursuit of attention, of approval, of wealth, of fame, of oneupmanship, of all the worldly things that come to nothing, bring a person to nothing more than some illusion in someone elses’ eyes.

    Antidepressants, opioids, benzos, alcohol, cocaine and so on, are the medical treatments for the modern pursuit of happiness, that is really the pursuit of nihilistic self-obsession dressed up as moral virtue.

    That is why in any survey you care to ponder, people equate wealth with moral virtue.

    The best antidepressant is the one which knocks out all thoughts which might open the mind to pondering the above, and what comes next.

    We know they are working, psychiatry is working wonders. Because the majority of people consider the status quo to be healthy, good, and virtuous.

    • Thank-you, “s mc”! Your comment makes more sense to me now, than everything all those psychiatrists told me back then!….
      And thanks, also, for the chance to re-read my comment above, from 5 months ago! I see the good Dr. Kelmonson will NOT debate me! LOL!….

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