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The sad side of ‘happy pills’

There is so much to worry about most of the time. We may be concerned with the unfair way life treats us on a personal level. We may fret about the state of the environment and the effect it has on our children and us, the deterioration in society’s ethical standards or the widening gap between different sectors of the community.

Money and health problems are perhaps the biggest triggers of stress and anxiety. Even more alarming, stress and anxiety seem to be increasingly affecting children who are under immense pressure to achieve in education, sports and other extracurricular activities, often to satisfy their parents’ ambitions.

Young adults have to cope with career and family pressures and struggle to find the right balance frequently facing a crisis of conscience when they realise they are not succeeding in attaining their priorities.

It is unfortunate when politicians pretend they can help us achieve happiness by merely passing a new law that gives access to ‘happy pills’ that glitzy marketing techniques depict as the solution to our worries. The legalisation of recreational cannabis is an ill-conceived solution that is unlikely to bring about any relief from everyday stress and anxiety to anyone who mistakenly believes in the magical power of ‘happy pills’.

It is right that medical people trained in psychiatry should ring the alarm bell when so-called progressive politicians indirectly encourage the use of dangerous substances by those who feel mentally distressed. Nigel Camilleri, president of the Maltese Association of Psychiatry, chastised the government for not promoting more stress-relieving physical facilities to help people cope with anxiety. Why should the government burden the healthcare services with extra expenses to deal with the side effects suffered by those who use legal but dangerous substances like recreational cannabis?

Dr Camilleri repeated the well-known alarming statistic that mental health affects one in four people and does not discriminate between young and old, rich and poor. Psychiatrists increasingly recommend cognitive behavioural therapy or using reasoning and reflection to identify the causes of stress and anxiety and work to alter behavioural patterns to deal with mental distress. Sometimes all it takes to walk out of the dark labyrinth of depression and anxiety is the realisation that the universe could operate without our nagging that interferes so much with our happiness.

There is increasing evidence that, as a nation, we are suffering more than other countries from an inactive lifestyle that has obvious physical consequence like obesity and the myriad of illnesses associated with it.

Unfortunately, children are increasingly suffering from addiction to the use of social media and electronic games that, unsurprisingly, leave little time for healthy pursuits like participation in sport or learning relaxing skills such as listening to music, dancing or socialising.

Aloisia Camilleri, the psychiatry association’s vice-president, rightly argues that although substance abuse does not necessarily trigger mental health issues in everyone, it certainly affects negatively the well-being of most. Even substance consumers who do not suffer severe physical consequences tend to ruin their prospects for achieving happiness.

The government will do well to heed the sensible advice of psychiatrists and invest more in sports and recreational facilities for all, rather than just legalise the use of recreational drugs.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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