Andrew Solomon was accurate when he stated that the opposite of depression was not happiness, but vitality. The validity of Solomon’s belief is evidenced by an odd prescription to the animal world. Penguins native to South American weather have been prescribed antidepressants to increase their vitality at the Sea Life Center in England. The reasoning is that the lengthy English rains have caused a severe mood shift in the penguins. The consequences of dramatic climate change can be fatal to creatures out of their element. The antidepressants are supposed to maintain survival ambition and skills in the penguins.
Administering behavioral medications like antidepressants to animals is not uncommon. Vets are inclined to prescribe antidepressants to dogs and cats to treat anger issues and anxiety. While antidepressants can be useful to different species, the real issue is determining the true value of antidepressants.
Melancholia, the medieval term for depression, has often been associated with the excess production of black bile in the liver. Ancient treatment for melancholia was really based in self-reflection. Modern psychiatry has evolved to a place where brain surgery can be circumvented by ingesting a tiny pill. After centuries of trying to change depression with a lobotomy or via monologue, science is now trying to understand it.
Depression is currently understood as a chemical imbalance that adversely affects mental health. The presence of suicidal thought in an individual is always questioned when assessing depression. Thoughts of death and indulgence in lethargy are key aspects in a highly depressed state. In order to increase vitality and improve mood, the antidepressant was born. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common form of antidepressants, the other are Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs). In a nutshell, these antidepressants prevent chemicals in the body from bouncing so extremely. It is the body’s way of catching itself, before the mind falls. However, while antidepressants are a valuable short-term solution, their extended use may inhibit evolution.
Adaptation is a process used in evolution that helps a creature grow into something more fit for their environment. Using antidepressants to increase vitality for the lifetime of an individual can prevent them from growing. Moreover, antidepressants should be used to help transition an individual into a more natural state of vitality. They should not be used as a permanent support system. Not only are SSRIs and MAOIs tolerance building, but also can cause a number of health issues from liver damage to loss of libido. Ironically, such health issues can also be a cause of depression.
The purpose of living is to experience life, to feel the ups and downs. When a creature becomes overly dependent on an outside source to feel vital, the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. Most antidepressants are administered with the support of therapy, at least that is the psychological ideal. While it may be useful and amusing that animals have to take antidepressants, the notion that pills are an ultimate solution is skewed. The true opposite of depression is sincere vitality. Weaning a human or an animal off of antidepressants is just as important as prescribing them. While antidepressants can increase vitality, it is vital that a creature aspire to live without them.
By Victoria Chuidian