In the course of an evaluation, a patient asked me if she might be a candidate for an “SSRI.” These are potent drugs she has seen advertised on TV as effective in treating symptoms like hers.

Such requests are becoming routine in the direct-to-consumer, “ask your doctor” promotional blitz. Most of the knowledge that guides today’s medical care comes from pharmaceutical companies through the media. Patients are introduced to drugs that purportedly cure everything from shyness to tiredness, anxiety, lack of focus, and sadness. It’s an education designed to sell pills, and it is predicated on “psychopathologizing” the human condition. We have pills for kids who are too active, are sad, or can’t stay focused. There are pills for couples who argue, for people who can’t sleep, and for those who can’t stay awake. Patients are requesting pills and doctors are prescribing them. This is not the answer to living a life of joy. If you’re not feeling good in every moment, it doesn’t mean you have a disease. It does not mean you need powerful medicines to elevate your mood or minimize your anxiety.

There may even be something to be learned from the experience of your suffering that will last you in good stead in the future. Some valuable things are being lost in the contemporary practice of medicine when patients come to believe that the ordinary ups and downs of life are chemically treatable diseases. As a culture, we become increasingly dependent on drugs and are popping pills because it’s so much easier than taking the time to make the emotional investment required for personal growth.

The doctor-patient relationship is the core of a sacred profession. Dr. William Osler, the first Professor at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, and the greatest clinician of his time, said, “It is much more important to know what sort of patient has a disease than what sort of disease the patient has.”

Seek out someone you trust whose commitment has not been dulled by the commercialization of medicine, a doctor who prescribes pearls not pills.

P.S. Interested in reading more about the pill-pushing in America? Read Dr. John Abramson’s new book, Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine (HarperCollins, 2004)