How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in’t!

(The Tempest Act 5 Scene 1)

Shakespeare’s irony did not escape the novelist Aldous Huxley. His 1932 novel, Brave New World, takes place around the year 2500. The people are oppressed by ruthless authorities, distracted by inane televisual ‘entertainment’, controlled by genetic and social engineering and numbed into conformity by a tranquilising drug called ‘soma’.

Brave New World (1932) preceded the more famous but similar  novel, 1984, written by George Orwell in 1949. The contemporary world seems to be approaching these novelists’ apocalyptic vision with alarming speed. As a doctor, I am most concerned by the exponential increase in the prescription of antidepressants and tranquilisers – especially during the present recession. The Guardian reports that the prescription of antidepressants has increased by 20% in just three years.

This is particularly outrageous because two years ago a major study warned that antidepressants were no better than placebo in mild and moderate depression (surely the majority of cases) as I mentioned in a post at the time. My point was that it was the height of hypocrisy to criticise NHS homeopathy (drug budget £10 million) when the budget for these less-than-evidence-based antidepressants was £232 million!

At the time, the medical profession vowed to ‘do something’ about it. What has been ‘done’ is that the prescription of antidepressants in the UK has – in the words of the Guardian – soared. The situation across the Atlantic in the USA which offers the best medicine money can buy – is even worse. The use of anti-depressants in the ‘home of the brave’ has in the words of USA Today ‘skyrocketed’ by 400% (sic!) since 1988.

The situation with highly addictive tranquilising drugs is another horror story that I’ll leave to somebody else to write about. Both sets of drugs have potentially dangerous side effects and patients really should be monitored carefully on them – if their doctors can find the time of course. But it seems nobody cares that much about these horrific statistics. After all should we really be knocking such a profitable industry during a recession? Much better to start a new organisation protesting against all that money wasted on treating naive patients who want NHS homeopathy. And don’t read Huxley’s Brave New World either – read his last novel, Island. It’s about a type of Utopia and much more optimistic than Brave New World.

Stay optimistic and banish your fears

Orwell was out by at least forty years.

(from Instructions for Androids)