Many years ago, a leading conservative wrote a column in the old Melbourne Herald about the Doug Anthony All Stars. Later I asked him if he’d been pranked by DAAS — had they somehow smuggled a fake op-ed in under his name?
Wasn’t the case, and would have been difficult to do in those quill-and-platen days. Seems to have occurred in the new Debrief Daily, where someone has used Mia Freedman’s name to write the inch-perfect parody of self-absorbed life blather. From the title “I’m finally ready to talk about my anxiety …” to every detail, this is a masterpiece. Thrill to Mia’s commitment to working out her problems via three different therapists, followed by her conclusion that it’s a chemical imbalance, and her manic professional self-promotion has nothing to do with it; cheer as she plugs a brand-name drug three times, sounding like an old snake-oil testimonial. Marvel at this kicker:
“To subscribe to Mia’s free weekly newsletter where she writes exclusive content about her life, shares links to what she’s reading online and includes photos of her often ridiculous outfits, go here.”
Because, hey, why deal with anxiety by reducing excessive self-consciousness when you could take an anti-depressant — the drug she’s taking is just a Prozac variant — and power on with a life where you’ve commodified your own selfhood to build a media brand?
Actually, sadly, one will have to be serious for a moment: Freedman is spruiking a drug with serious side effects. Quite aside from the standard SSRI side effects — sudden attacks of suicidal thinking, reduced sexual response, vomiting, tremors, and a couple of rare (very rare) fatal conditions (serotonin syndrome), the particular SSRI she’s advocating causes birth defects in children if used by pregnant women, and has the highest rate of suicidality onset of all the SSRIs — so much so that in the United States every packet has a “black box” warning — a heavily bordered prominent notice alerting users to a high suicidality risk. Oh, and in 2010 its manufacturer was fined $300 million in the US for illegally marketing the drugs to children.
More generally, it’s a little odd for a self-confessed hypochondriac to be so enthusiastic about what some describe as a neurotoxin. It works by blocking the receptors that absorb serotonin in the brain. Ample evidence now suggests — surprise, surprise — that long-term use of such drugs creates habituation and, via atrophy, a depression that resists treatment. The term now applied is “tardive dysphoria” — pity really, as it would have made a great name for Mia’s weekly newsletter.
Not the worst thing, but still pretty crap, about this is that it will feed into mugwump Mark Latham’s argument that there’s no depression or anxiety, it’s all a plot by professional women, and all you need to do when feeling down is stay at home for the rest of your life, and you’ll be right as rain. Anti-depressants are hugely over-prescribed — especially now as they are marketed as anti-anxiety, anti-social-phobia, anti-OCD drugs, so they can be re-patented and have their brand names plugged in lifestyle articles — and depression and anxiety overdiagnosed. But they are both real phenomena that largely afflict the powerless and trapped.
If you’re neither of the latter, then before committing to permanent use of a drug that’s a cousin of ecstasy, maybe you should, I dunno, examine your life, and see if changing it will help — especially as some people appear to be regarding you as a guide to life, a thought that has me reaching for the MAO inhibitors. Good god, Dr Kennett will be in on this next, the Black Dog Institute snapping at his heels, Beyondblue hovering like the shadow of Skywhale over the debate. The powerful might need to address issues labelled, accurately or otherwise, depression and anxiety, by changing their lives. The powerless need more power over their own live to address such issues, so the change has to be social as well.
Well, maybe I’m being a little harsh. There’s a common “evangelical” effect that happens when people take a drug that starts working for them (and that they believe, wrongly, will work at that pitch indefinitely) — and that is to a) tell everyone about it and b) consign all one’s difficulties to having a physical cause. Freedman seems to have got a bad case of this, and, by a rough count, 15 blogs where she can talk about her own life, and her affliction of feeling continuously scrutinised etc, etc. Most likely in a couple of years, there’ll be a “my drug disaster” story.
In the meantime, would it be too much to ask people writing about whatever this thing is that we call “depression and ‘anxiety” to do a little cursory research before they sound off? This thing, cosa nostra, has clearly become a feature of Australian life, more so than elsewhere. While trying to work out what’s going on, it might be best to avoid giving one-sided meds recommendations to your fanbase.