America is getting good at exporting our diseases. Everybody already talks about obesity and the way American eating habits are slowly fattening up the rest of the world. But that’s not the only disease we are sending abroad. Here’s VSL*:
Americans are on pretty chummy terms with depression, chatting almost as easily about therapists and Paxil and Lexapro as we would about sports scores and the weather. But in Japan — where Buddhism has encouraged the acceptance of sadness and warns against the pursuit of “happiness” — the concept of depression is just now beginning to permeate public consciousness.
Does Your Soul Have a Cold?, the fascinating documentary by Mike Mills (who directed Thumbsucker) that premieres on the IFC channel on 10/22, takes a closer look at the ramifications of exporting our Western definitions of depression and its cures to Japan. The film’s title comes from a 1999 American pharmaceutical-company ad campaign that helped sales of antidepressants in Japan quintuple between 1998 and 2003, and focuses on five Japanese patients in various stages of emotional distress. Mills presents their individual stories in an unobtrusive and nonjudgmental manner that allows viewers to draw their own conclusions.
Watch the clip here. Personally, I’m conflicted about the issue. On the one hand, the worst possible thing you can do is stigmatize depression, which is a very real brain disorder across all cultures. And yet, there are also important warning signs suggesting that depression is overdiagnosed and overmedicated, at least in America.