I’m wary in fact of a possible tendency to medicalise a few things. I know some women want to resist a tendency to medicalise the menopause. The British Psychological Society apparently have a working group looking at the medicalisation of childhood. And then there is depression. There is no doubt that major depression is a medical condition, but where is the gap between minor depression and, say, sadness, melancholy, grief? Such feelings, whilst painful, can have their value. The poet Keats even went so far as to write an Ode to Melancholy, and the link between melancholy feelings and artistic creativity is not just confined to nineteenth century poets. I remember hearing Eric Clapton say that he played the blues guitar better when he was feeling rough.
In spiritual traditions, suffering can be what galvanises one to spiritual practice such as meditation or prayer, and what can lead one, eventually, to considerable fulfilment and joy. What would have happened if the Buddha, oppressed in his youth by existential angst, had been prescribed some anti-depressants? What about the guitar solo on Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’? What about the riches of English poetry? Let’s not be too quick to medicalise painful emotions. Painful emotions are part of life.
On the other hand, medicine (whether conventional western medicine or the kind I practice, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or any other variety) is about relieving suffering. If my Dad’s life can be made a bit easier in his old age, if Eric Clapton can be just a bit less blue, if women of a certain age can be free of hot flushes which make their lives a misery at the most inopportune times, what is wrong with that?
The word ‘medicalisation’, perhaps, suggests a heavy handed approach to suffering; using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It may be that people like me who want to resist medicalising various difficult experiences are resisting a kind of medicine which suppresses the individual. This kind of treatment does not so much as help someone through a difficult experience as obliterate the experience itself.
In these kind of experiences – old age, menopause, sadness and grief – we may in fact sometimes benefit from some kind of medical intervention, provided that intervention is a light touch intervention, which, furthermore, recognises and respects our humanity, not seeing us as a biochemical problem but as a human being.