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A New Stigma(ta)

Updated: Mar 30

It used to be that people would judge the usage of antidepressants on allegations of madness and maleficence. If you needed to take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), your health was akin to that of the clinically insane and you were a menace to society.

My grandparents immigrated to Canada during the 1960s bearing not only a set of benign cultural beliefs, but also those with a much darker complexion. Had I been born a mere 30 years earlier, it’s plausible that I would have been institutionalized on multiple counts. To this day, it’s almost impossible to explain to my illiterate grandmother what my focal dyscognitive epilepsy truly is. At worst, she would liken my condition to a quasi-religious supernatural phenomenon, not unlike that of a periodic spiritual possession. At best, one of the pazzi (foolish or crazy people) who would simply collapse in the middle of field work on a hot summer’s day in rural Calabria. Regardless, the notion of said occurrences being reduced to a natural cerebral malfunction would be as incredible to her as preferring jarred ragu to home-grown tomato sauce.

I regale you with this story not only for my own nostalgic satisfaction, but because it’s representative of a completely different era. The modern world, specifically the West, tends to look upon such an attitude with incredulity and severe pity for the sufferers. How could these primitive, superstitious and intolerant views ever have existed, let alone be so prevalent? This is a dangerous reaction. I am in no way sympathetic to that worldview, but I want to emphasize that we have by no means outgrown our credulity.

In The Descent of Man, Darwin remarked that humans still bear the indelible stamp of their lowly origin. While he was likely referencing our anatomical attributes (appendices, vestigial tails, large adrenal glands and undersized frontal cortices, to name a few), I’m talking about our ideologies.

The last few decades have seen a groundswell in naturopathic remedies, holistic methodologies and spiritual approaches to "healing" and self-improvement. One need only look at trends on social media, such as the overwhelming popularity and belief in astrological mysticism. The universe has become deified and developed monolithic qualities like omniscience and a sort of spiritualized determinism; everything happens for a reason, and with you in mind. As this perspective strengthens, familiar vices arise: dogmatism and heresy.

While I’m not dismissing naturopathic treatments entirely, I will assert that they, like their 20th century ancestors, are beginning to show signs of intolerance and rigidity. I’ve experienced judgment and condescension when it comes to disclosing my usage of antidepressants. I’ve seen countless references to and admonishments of "allopathic" methods online. Preferences and recommendations of vitamin supplements and herbal remedies are deemed at best effective and at worst superior to conventional medicine. While there have been anecdotal records of people claiming to benefit from things like acupuncture and cupping, there’s no denying that we enter an entirely different realm of speculation and abstraction with things like reiki and energy crystals. Alternative medicine journals containing professions of loyalty and devotion to "masters" isn’t exactly the scientific method we’re all familiar with.

I’m concerned that our culture is breeding a new type of prejudice based on a nascent faith. Each and every one of us would be a god with direct access to the metaphysical Wi-Fi of the universe, meaning all the right answers to our complex problems are just a meditative password away. With such a belief and alleged ability comes infallible knowledge, totalitarian authority and persecutions; none of which are compatible with our modern secular society. If we wish to grow and broaden our horizons, it’s paramount that we remember the value of intellectual humility and appropriate skepticism — even if it means not always consulting our birth chart.


Adrian is a writer and editor with a passion for language, philosophy and psychology. He is returning to academia to pursue a career in neuropsychology, investigating the relationship between stress, anxiety, and the provocation of various neurological disorders. His professional contributions include personal essays for the online publication "The Mindful Word" and editorial work for LetsStopAIDS.

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