It is becoming increasingly common to treat psychological or mental problems with drugs, something that can help in serious cases or certain disorders, but can also weaken us when it comes to dealing with the problems of everyday life, or existential discomforts that were once seen as commonplace.
For some years now, the use and prescription of medication has been increasing in the field of psychology. The medical model and the instantaneous relief of symptoms that some drugs provide contribute to the public's assumption that this method is the most effective.
This is leading to the medicalisation of certain psychological disorders and of psychology itself. By medicalisation we mean the process of turning situations that have always been normal into pathological conditions and attempting to resolve, by means of medicine, situations that are not medical but social, professional or interpersonal.
I will use as an example of this the case of depression, a disorder that we have heard a lot about lately, especially as a result of the pandemic and the multiple quarantines we have had to face. The pandemic has in many cases provoked negative feelings of loneliness or abandonment, and not only among the elderly, who living alone are a much more vulnerable sector, but also in a large part of the young and adolescent population.
Although numerous studies have shown that the most effective way to treat mild or moderate depression is cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy, treatment with antidepressants has been increasing over the years, especially in countries such as the United States, where 11% of the population takes this type of medication and 15.5 million people have been under this pharmacological treatment for at least 5 years, despite the fact that the maximum recommended intake time does not exceed 4 months.
Moreover, despite the fact that no antidepressant is more effective than the first ones discovered, new pills continue to be marketed and advertised, claiming to be the solution for those suffering from prolonged low mood.
Pharmacotherapy promotes the idea of "illness" in the patient, causing them to adopt a passive role in the face of their behavioural problems, relying on the drug as the solution. This is a real problem since depression will not go away unless it is accompanied by changes in the individual's behaviour and way of thinking, as it is never due to biological factors alone, but also to social factors and situations in the sufferer's environment.
Generally, an antidepressant takes effect quickly in the short term, while the delay in symptomatic improvement that accompanies therapy generates a certain mistrust of it. Despite this, it has been shown that those patients who continue with psychotherapy show changes at the brain level that confirm the long-term beneficial effect of psychotherapy, and that once it is over, relapse is much more unlikely. In the case of the use of drugs, this change is not observed, and on the contrary, the long-term effects are rather scarce. In fact, once we stop with the pharmachotherapy, it is very likely that the patient will relapse and return to the drug, which can lead to dependence.
We are increasingly used to have our problems solved with the minimum effort, or at least that is what we expect. So, if we had to choose between these 2 options: a pill that will relieve your discomfort in just 3 days, or a continuous visit to a person who will not solve your problem, but who will give you instructions and will act as a guide so that you can solve it by yourself, which of the two sounds better?
The first is the easiest, but not the most convenient. The best thing would be to provide people with the strategies they need to cope with life's problems, and to teach them how to use them to deal with them.
Finally, I am not against the use of drugs, and I think they are a great help in cases of severe depression or other disorders, where psychotherapy alone is not enough to make progress and achieve good results. What is criticised is the extension of this method to problems that do not require it for their solution.