One Prozac a Day
“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be” (Lincoln). Happiness and depression are far too complicated to be controlled solely by levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain. Instead, there are many variables in life which can affect a person’s overall mood. Happiness is an attitude, and can be achieved by surprisingly simple things like a change of environment or recollection of happy memories. In the US, one of two countries in which medication is advertised directly to consumers, antidepressants are represented in the media as the answer to all of our discontent.
Antidepressants are among the best-selling drugs in our over-medicalized culture. Antidepressant commercials and ads convince their audience that they are not happy, and that the only way to be happy is to take SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These ads make the claim that serotonin levels are directly linked to depression, while there is no scientific evidence to prove it. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not require preapproval of these ads; it only regulates them after they are released to the public. This allows for misinformation to reach vulnerable consumers, adults and children alike. “Consumers viewing such advertisements remain uninformed regarding the limitations of the serotonin hypothesis” (Leo, Lacasse).
Disproving the serotonin hypothesis does not discredit neurology or psychiatry, nor does it question that mental illness is a legitimate issue that can be treated with medication; it only proves that, ironically, the very things society depends on to make us happy could be having the adverse effects. Happiness is the result of chemicals reacting in the brain, but our culture today is so complex, emotions are affected by a variety of factors. The very definition of happiness is too complex to be reduced to the reaction of chemicals, and the definition of mental illness is too misunderstood to be reduced to a chemical imbalance. Happiness is related to serotonin, but “given the ubiquity of a neurotransmitter such as serotonin and the multiplicity of its functions, it is almost as meaningless to implicate it in depression as it is to implicate blood” (Horgan). Happiness is something we can usually control, a conscious attitude more than just a neurotransmitter.
Happiness is affected by our environment, our past experiences, our ability to focus on the positive in life. These techniques can help us achieve happiness without over-medicating ourselves.