Changing the world

From Philip Gerard’s “Writing a book that makes a difference

If you had the power to instantaneously change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be? Why would you change it? What’s the most eloquent argument against changing it? What makes you believe the change would be for the better? What would be the effect on a specific community of strangers? What would be some possible unintended consequences?

Part of me wants to say I’d eliminate mental illness of all kinds, but then I have to pause. Depression has been linked to creativity, would eliminating one reduce potential for the other? I would remove the prejudice, stigma, and ignorance about mental illness. A pancreas fails, you’re labeled as someone with a defective body part, known as a diabetic, you get insulin, and you live an almost completely normal live. A neurochemical fails, you get depression, you can be branded weak, a failure, lazy, unstable. In the US, health insurance severely restricts what treatment you can get and how often, if they pay for it at all. In the UK, you get treatment, but they want you off it as soon as possible, which is months too soon. On top of dealing with the illness you often have to hide it from people and act normal, as best you can. People assume you’re responsible for getting the illness, and you can just “snap out of it” anytime you choose, as if you like to sit in the pit with the hungry dragon. Some Christians label you a sinner because of it, it’s all the proof they need.

An argument against changing it? I’m having trouble coming up with one. I’ve seen the mess this causes in people’s lives, and talked with a few of the offenders. Society isn’t set up to deal with this change. You’d probably end up with some “false positives,” people who think they have it but don’t, demanding treatment because they feel a bit down, wanting chemically induced warm fuzzies. It would affect the drugs industry, making it more profitable to sell antidepressants to a much wider market. Look at Prozac, branded as Sarafem and sold for a PMS related condition that may or may not exist. There could be outrage and lawsuits from people denied treatment, families of people who killed themselves. It could become fashionable to have a mental illness, people may invent or “discover” strange new conditions.

The change would be for the better because of the thousands of people who could relax their guard, get the treatment they need, and get better. OK, so some people would lose an important scapegoat, but the goat would be better off. You’d lift the weight holding people down, sapping their energy and focus, who knows what they could achieve then?

Unintended consequences? Finding out just how widespread mental illness is, and how it affects people’s lives to have an illness you’re ashamed of. There’s an episode of Babylon 5 in season two called “Confessions and Lamentations” where the Markab race fall prey to a fatal disease. They see the disease as divine retribution for sinful behaviour and withdraw to a place to separate from the sinful ones. They believe no-one who is righteous could get ill, but the entire race is wiped out because of their prejudice and ignorance. You can’t treat someone who refuses to believe they’re sick, and you can’t study something no-one will admit to having. Ignorance can kill, depression has a pretty scary suicide rate, coupled with a lousy detection/treatment rate. Just knowing it’s something fixable is a huge relief, you’re not going mad, not marked by God as a lightening rod for despair, not dying, not incurable.

Tough question. Gerard’s intent is to find out which issue preoccupies you. No surprises it’s depression given my other website.