Talk About Downers: The Insidious and Cruel Psychiatric Practice of Medicating Sadness and Despair
by Randy Cima, Ph.D.
Psychiatry sells us four kinds of chemicals for our psychiatric disorders. Three chemicals really, though they have been experimenting for decades to find a use for the fourth, to no avail, so far.1 Each of the four has distinguishable, physiological effects on all earthlings, healthy or otherwise.
The four kinds of chemicals, and their effects, are: (1) Tranquilizers (downers), (2) Stimulants (uppers), (3) Analgesics (anesthetics/pain relief), and (4) Hallucinogens (consciousness altering), each with their own story.
This story is about psychiatry’s misuse of the first of these — tranquilizers — or what is commonly known as “downers.”
The first man-made tranquilizer, Chlorpromazine (CPZ), became available to the public in 1954. It was popular among professionals due to its ease of use and versatility — they used it for everything — and it was a huge financial boon to Big Pharma. By the mid-1960’s fifty million people around the planet had used CPZ. The formula was in place. (See Zombie Theory Part 3.2)
Since then, psychiatric science has simply reimagined the many ways they can produce, develop, and market similar tranquilizers. They have also used a variety of different names for these same chemicals during the past 70 years, including SSRI’s, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, anti-psychotics, anxiolytics, and many, many more. Regardless of terminology, they are all tranquilizers, and represent one of several kinds of central nervous system depressants.
In varying degrees, tranquilizers slow down our breathing, our heartbeat, and in general, our physical activity, including brain activity. Within a short period of time after ingesting a tranquilizer of some kind, you can feel your muscles relax and tensions lessen. Your life-stressors seem less impactful, and there’s even a sense of euphoria for a short period of time. You feel a little better than you did, for a while. And that, dear reader, is the dirty little secret no one talks about. This is how they “work,” and why they really don’t work at all.
Another thought or two
I think about half of adults (I’m guessing) who take these “meds” understand the particular tranquilizer they’re taking is just that: a tranquilizer. Because of the pressures of life, they seek tranquility. They like the calming effects of the pill, at least in the beginning. If someone takes Prozac as a way to find some tranquility for six months to help get over a divorce or another life stressor, and if in this way it works for them, that’s okay with me. It is a tranquilizer, not medicine. Some people consume alcohol to lower their stress and anxiety. Others exercise or meditate. There are a variety of ways to ease stressful, ongoing life situations.
Some take a tranquilizer — or two — when necessary. If, as the stress decreases, and use of the tranquilizer decreases too, then it’s no-harm-no foul as far as I’m concerned. Please be cautious. There are physical risks for using a tranquilizer too often, or for too long. They are toxic, they can become habitual, and they do not “treat a brain disease.” They provide us tranquility for stress and anxiety in our lives. With or without these cautions, as an adult, it’s your business.
However, for the other half (more or less), this is about life and death. They are desperate. They are not seeking tranquility. They are thinking about ending their life if they don’t feel better soon. A doctor — and society in general — convinces them they have a disease that is causing their deep depression and can only be helped with one, or more, of the many, many tranquilizers — downers — from which doctors have to choose.
With this introduction, and with these thoughts in mind, please consider the following story.
Insidious and Cruel
Imagine you’re a 30 something young man or woman, and you’ve been fighting a deep sadness for a few years. Life has dealt you a few blows. You have reason to be depressed. As a result, you’ve been isolating yourself for some time. You feel you’re a burden to the few friends and family members you still see. There’s no joy in your life. You have no energy, and no need for energy. Days are becoming more and more burdensome. Your thoughts and feelings are as dark as your mood. You try to exercise and mingle, like you’ve been advised, but you just don’t feel like it. You don’t want to be around anyone.
You started therapy a year ago. It helped for a while. You like your therapist and you confide in him. He knows you’ve had thoughts of ending your life, among other things. You were optimistic when you started. But now, it’s been a year, and you feel worse. Your therapist is frustrated too. You know he cares about you. He reminds you he suggested you see a psychiatrist six months earlier, but you declined. Maybe he’s right. Maybe there is something biological going on, you concede. After all, that’s what everyone has been telling you for a very long time. Your friends and family love you, and they all want you to get some medical help.
You’re desperate enough now. You haven’t really told anyone just how bad you feel, and how often you think about ending your life. You now prefer isolation. You’re depressed all the time, from the moment you get up in the morning until you go to bed, only to face another restless night. You’re still young, but you look old and you feel old. The future will only provide more of the same. So, with the prayers and support of family and friends, you’re finally willing to go to a doctor to address this long held, sinking feeling. You must put a stop to your overwhelming despair, and an end to those thoughts of self-harm. More and more often, in your most private thoughts, suicide is becoming a better option. You make an appointment.
You meet your psychiatrist. She already knows about you. You were referred by your therapist. You thought you were going to have a conversation about your life. Instead, it’s an interview. Within 20 minutes — maybe 30 — she tells you you’re clinically depressed, maybe bi-polar. She takes some time explaining, as best she could, how this medication will help treat the brain disease that is causing your depression. She gives you a prescription to treat your symptoms — she already told you there’s no cure for the brain disease you have. She gives you Zoloft, or Prozac, or Xanax, or another SSRI or benzodiazepine. In short, she tells you to ingest a particular dose of a particular tranquilizer.
You go home to follow doctor’s orders. You’re at least relieved to know you have something that can be treated — finally. Nothing has changed in your life, of course, but you take your first tranquilizer in the morning, and again in the evening. You’re trying to be optimistic.
It’s been two weeks, and you don’t feel any better. You were expecting something in the first week. The doctor warned you that you could feel worse before you feel better — it’s common she said — and she was right. You feel worse. You’re even more lethargic, less energetic, and your mood is worse too, and so are your thoughts and feelings. You call the office like the doctor told you, and you report the side effects of the tranquilizer. The office tells you it’s normal.
In the meantime, life happens, and other life stressors occur. You’re getting overwhelmed again. Perhaps you waited too long to see a psychiatrist. Perhaps your disease is that hard to manage. This time, a few weeks later, you go to the office. The doctor changes the dose to see if that works. If that doesn’t help, she told you, she may try another tranquilizer in a few months. You can’t wait a few months.
On your own, desperately, you double the dose of your tranquilizer. Nothing. You’re not even frightened anymore. You’re numb. You’ve taken more than you should, and it just makes you feel more depressed, more lethargic, more alone. You’ve confirmed, in your own mind, what you thought was true anyway. Therapy didn’t help and the doctor’s medicine has made it worse. There is no help coming. You’re destined to more misery, and you know you’re a constant worry to those who love you. Everyone will be better off, eventually, you reason. With a deep sorrow, and with a sense of peace, you make, given the circumstances, a principled, private decision. You end your story.
I think this is insidious and cruel. Do you?
1 The use of hallucinogens has been the subject of many experimental studies for many decades, with little to no results. Yet, the pursuit continues. Here’s the latest study from Johns Hopkins Medicine: Psychedelics Research and Psilocybin Therapy–https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/research/psychedelics-research.html
2 Zombie Theory Part 3: https://medium.com/@randycima/the-zombie-theory-part-3-3573b3920cc5
Randy Cima, Ph.D., is a psychologist by training. He was the Executive Director for several mental health agencies for children. He is avid opponent of psychotropic chemicals for children, and his efforts have successfully reduced and even eliminated chemicals in his work in helping them with a variety of problems. He also teaches, writes, and lectures on these matters.