Friday, November 04, 2005

The Worried Well (Quarterly Essay), by Gail Bell

This is probably the worst Quarterly Essay I’ve read yet. Is the intellectual temperature that low in Australia that this is the best we can do? The subject matter interested me: Australia’s growing dependency on prescription drugs. Unfortunately, the author really doesn’t say anything interesting.

A simple fact sheet, listing the huge amounts of anti-depressants we are now gobbling up, would have been of more interest. For example, did you know in 2004 twelve million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued? Or take our growing rate of anti-depressant consumption: five million scripts in 1990, 8.2 million in 1998 and 12 million last year (250,000 of those scripts being for patients under 20 years old.)

Gail Bell, ruminating on this problem, seems to be reaching out for a solution, but can’t come to any conclusions herself. Strangely enough, she seems to take most of her inspiration from Robert Burton’s 1621 book The Anatomy of Melancholy. If I’ve got anything out of this essay, it’s a determination to read Burton’s book. There were quite a few good quotations provided from The Anatomy of Melancholy. It makes you realise that common sense never goes out of fashion.

Part of the problem I suspect with this book is that the author works primarily as a pharmacist, and doesn’t seem to have brought other disciplines/interests to bear on her subject. Either write about the epidemic of depression and what’s causing it, or concentrate on our increasing reliance on prescription drugs and what big business has made out of it in dollar terms. Or join the two together if you can make an interesting argument.

This is a fascinating subject, but a go nowhere essay. Don’t waste your time. Get a copy of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. That’s what I’m going to do.

No comments: