Updated: Jan 28, 2020
According to Andrew Weil MD, one of the primary problems with modern medicine is that it undermines how people feel and, I would add, it neglects the importance of how personal perspective affects health.
If suicide rates are an indication of how “happy” we are as a nation, those rates have risen 30% in 35-64 year olds and in 2009 the number of deaths from suicide surpassed those from motor vehicle crashes. Suicide is an unfortunate result of increasing, usually untreated, and often unrecognized mental illness in our world and screams the importance of better mental health services. But suicide is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to how we are coping, generally, as a society.
We are NOT coping and need to look deeper, and fast!
Anti-depressant use has increased almost 400% in the last 2 decades and, currently, approximately 1 in 4 American women are taking them. Worse yet, anti-depressant use is often long-term with no defined beginning and end point as should be the case for any medical treatment plan.
And it’s not just anti-depressant use that is on the rise, a shocking 1 in 20 people over 12 years of age admit to using prescription pain medications for non-medicinal reasons. Each day in this county, more than 80 people die from overdose of prescription pain medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2012, healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for pain killers.
But what are we medicating? Have we, as a society, advanced to the point that we have “normalized” the need for drugs to dull the physical and mental anguish we feel day-to-day?
If we call depression “chemical” does that mean we need other chemicals to re-adjust brain physiology for the rest of our lives? When a woman presents asking for a refill of her anti-depressant medication, the conversation needs to turn away from, “which pharmacy?” and toward “what is going on, how can I help and when should we reassess your improvement?”. I have never met a patient who didn’t want an opportunity to elaborate on those answers.
Why are we so discontent and how can we turn the tide toward greater happiness and deeper personal fulfillment?
It starts with ensuring our own, personal, needs are met. We certainly can’t help others if we can’t take care of ourselves. No one else can do this for us, especially our failing healthcare system.
In modern times, most of us are well beyond the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (food, water, shelter, sleep). Once those basics are achieved, our perspective turns to psychological necessities and if lacking, we feel lost, alone, fragmented, frazzled, overwhelmed with tasks and underwhelmed with joy.
It has become obvious that we must search within ourselves for what drives personal happiness. What creates joy for one person may not be the same thing that fulfills another. The outside world, the people around us, the medications we take or even the way we fill our time cannot replace what thrives inside our heart and guides our path toward true inner serenity. Until we sincerely know ourselves and live authentically, we cannot heal our body, mend our mind, advance our world, or guide our children.
Without a connection to your inner self, achieved by spending time alone in contemplation, prayer, meditation and/or journaling, there is no foundation for health, including mental or physical metrics.
If we spend all our time looking outside ourselves, or into our prescription bottle, for the answers, we will find temporary relief but never lasting self-actualization.
Physical and mental health sit atop a structure that is set upon a foundation of inner guidance, personal relationships and finding life’s work that is both rewarding and creates a sense of connection to others. Equally important to overall health and fulfillment is allowing time for creativity in some form and satisfying our sexual needs in a deep and loving way. All these pieces are transient if we cannot create a healthy environment that sustains and supports the inner work. It is remarkable how emotion and life situation affect the experience of physical symptoms. Have you ever felt sad and noticed that your whole body hurt? When we are devastated by loss, our brain is active in the same areas as with physical trauma so heart break really does hurt! Our mind and body are so closely connected that we cannot separate them except in medical textbooks that are often oversimplified explanations of health gone wrong. Medicine is simply the study of pathology of organs and systems that have developed problems after years of use, overuse and misuse. Almost all health problems are considered chronic conditions, meaning that they develop over time, usually many, many years with gradual and progressive onset. This would include all conditions that are known to be the most frequent causes of death, like heart attack, stroke, complications of diabetes, conditions secondary to obesity, even cancer. So if we want to tackle the biggest killers in our world, both mental and physical, we need to build the foundation and we need to be attuned to our body when things start to go wrong, possibly before we end up needing medication or surgery to “fix” us.
It’s time to heal yourself! I propose that, by doing so, you will be a bigger contributor to your family, your work and the world that is so desperately in need of healing right along with you.
You can start today by spending some time listening, feeling and responding to what your body and mind have been telling you all these years.
Who knows, this may be the first day of the best part of your life!