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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Letter to the Editor

Published: January 30, 2009
Section: Opinions

Dear Editor,

I was deeply disturbed by Bret Matthew’s latest article “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Healthcare, Part 2” (Jan. 23, 2009). It is one thing to have a personal dislike of a certain kind of medicine, but dispensing actual medical advice without any actual authority to do so, either professional or moral, is not only unethical and unprofessional but highly dangerous.

Matthew sets the tone for his article by opening with a literary comparison to a dystopian world where the populace is in kept check through government-distributed hallucinogens, and then not only compares them to anti-depressants but states, without qualification, that anti-depressants are worse. He quickly backpedals, as he can’t possibly support the extremely prejudicial comparison he makes, but he made it very clear what the actual basis is for his dislike of anti-depressants: social stigma against people who use psychiatric medication.

He touches briefly on facts with his assertion that “many people who take antidepressants find that the harmful side effects of the drugs outweigh the benefits”, but he cites no actual studies, beyond a vague mention that “recent studies” exist, and doesn’t put any number or percentage to the term “many.” Further, he pays no attention to the possible benefits of anti-depressant use, offering instead a possibility of negative interaction and ignoring the negative consequences of failing to treat depression. Matthew qualifies his opinion by stating that he is not a medical expert, or even a med student, but his saying so raises the question as to why he is making these claims in the first place. If he admits that he isn’t qualified to offer an opinion, then he shouldn’t be offering one.

Matthew claims to only advocate “a little caution,” but his words belie his intent: “I believe the risk is too great. Depression is too complicated to simply throw a cure-all, miracle drug at.” He doesn’t just warn of the risks, which would have required actual facts and data, but instead he explicitly tells readers not to take anti-depressants. That is not a word of caution, but rather actual medical advice, based not on medical knowledge, which Matthew admits he doesn’t have, but rather social distaste. Matthew can’t open his argument by comparing anti-depressants to Huxley’s dystopian Soma and then later act as though he’s just measuring an objective risk.

People struggling with depression must make many difficult decisions if they want to be treated. The choice of whether or not to use anti-depressants is one that should be made with a doctor, through understanding the risks and carefully monitoring their effect. This decision should not be made more difficult by the insulting and intimidating presentation of backward stigma from one who has no authority to speak on the issue.

Furthermore, I believe a good deal of blame lies with The Hoot’s editorial board. Although I understand that the opinions presented do not necessarily reflect your own, you should maintain a certain level of journalistic integrity even in your editorials. Allowing someone who is not a medical professional to give medical advice is not only a breach of that integrity, but it is downright dangerous. I do not want you to merely print this letter so as a “counter-opinion,” I would like a written apology from both Matthew and your Editorial board to be printed, apologizing for your unprofessional and irresponsible work and encouraging all those in need of medical information to speak with someone qualified to give it.

–Taylor Shiells ’09