Since the 1970s, the number of mental health ‘disorders’ formally recognized by Western medical science has jumped from 106 to more than 370, the academic and psychotherapist James Davies notes in the opening pages of Sedated. The use of antipsychotic drugs to treat “sustained emotional distress” has climbed over that period, too. In 1988, roughly 2 per cent of American adults consumed some form of mood-altering or mood-enhancing medication. By 2017, that figure was 12.7 per cent. In Britain, the rise of anti-depressants has run parallel to the expansion of cheap credit and the Thatcherite unravelling of economic regulation: as the country’s stockpile of private debt has grown, so has its dependency on pharmaceuticals.
In his first book, Cracked (2013), Davies exposed the rampant profiteering of the drugs industry and the corrosive effects of mass-marketed prescriptions. In Sedated, he advances a similar argument but within a broader thematic remit. Ordinary human suffering has been medicalized and commodified by the free market, Davies says. Capitalism’s emphasis on individual responsibility keeps us locked in a state of existential unrest. Contrary to popular opinion, depression isn’t a biological condition triggered by “misfiring chemicals” in the brain; it is a rational response to material factors – grief, poverty, unemployment, isolation – that lie beyond our immediate control.