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I assume the technology for anti-depression drugs will keep improving. That seems reasonable. And I assume that being in jail would make the average person depressed. Prisons have healthcare for the inmates, and depression is a legitimate health problem. Here's the dilemma: Do you give a prisoner drugs that will make him happy despite being in jail, or do you have an obligation to keep him depressed? After all, you don't want people thinking that committing a crime will improve their happiness whether they get caught or not.

I expect some quibbling about the definition of depression. I understand there is a big difference between the debilitating form and the type where you are sad for a perfectly good reason. But if your reason for being depressed is a long prison sentence, that reason probably won't pass for years. And if you are having suicidal thoughts, that is generally considered a sign of the serious type of depression. I have to think most people with a long prison sentence entertain the thought of suicide. At what point is it ethically appropriate to treat prison-induced depression?
 
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Nov 24, 2008
Your answer lies in the answer to another question: What is the purpose of prison?

Is it punishment? In that case, no treatment! We want it to be a negative experience.
Is it rehabilitation? In that case, no treatment! We want it to be a negative experience, so they don't want to go back.
Is it a deterrence? In that case, no treatment! We want it o be a negative experience, so others don't want to go in the first place.
Is it to remove the convict from polite society? In that case, treatment becomes a question of money, opinion, and ethics.

Most agree that jail should be the consequence of crime, but there is a lot of disagreement about the purpose of jail time. I would say that if depression is a natural reaction to getting thrown in jail, and an inmate is depressed for that reason, don't treat it. You don't treat things that aren't broke. (Our society, at least in the U.S., is highly over-medicated). If there is an actual imbalance, treat it. Don't treat a natural reaction. Now - does everyone have their pencils? We need to be able to draw a line to tell the difference. Everyone get a pencil because everyone will try to draw their own line, and it needs to be in pencil so we can keep changing our minds.
 
 
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Nov 24, 2008
Should we spike the water in Detroit with anti-depressants during NFL season?
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
I think putting prisoners to work would make them less depressed
anyways, good thoughts scott. my favorite ever was when you asked the question of why anyone would want to retire
 
 
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Nov 24, 2008
As a determinist you would start with the supposition that all prisoners are innocent (in a sense). If this is the case, and I believe it is, than punishment, by itself, is inane. The rationale purposes for prisons include: 1. Setting an example so that potential criminals (all of us) are deterred. 2. Ridding the population of nasty sods. 3. Rehabilitation.
So the question is how antidepressants would influence these three purposes and what the financial and social constraints are for the long and short term.
 
 
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Nov 24, 2008
You send people to jail to isolate them from society so thet don't harm people, it doesn't have anything to do with making inmates feel pain and misery, even though they do feel miserable, ergo you should treat them just like anybody on the outside.
 
 
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Nov 24, 2008
Scott, you know the answer to this one because you act it out everyday in Dilberts firm. Let the level of unhappiness rise to the point shortly before people start killing themselves.
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
A side effect I suffered from being on antidepressants is that my trouser titan doesn't work so well anymore. Perhaps to prevent people wanting to end up on them they could run ads that show a picture of a frail-looking sapling, accompanied by the words "This could happen to you."
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
Not related to this article, I saw this article about "Probe into whether Viagra raises athletic prowess" and thought it was your kind of article to comment on... plenty of amusing comments on the topic already have been made as well...

http://msn.foxsports.com/other/story/8839424?MSNHPHCP&GT1=39002
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
Jeez, who knew "c-i-r-c-u-m-s-t-a-n-c-e" was a dirty word flagged by the site's profanity filter. *****!
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
Many of those who suffer from depression do so not because of their !$%*!$%*!$%*! but because of an imbalance of neurotransmitters caused either by genetic predisposition or physiologic developmental impairment. Most can be treated with some form of drug therapy. To deny anyone treatment sounds like medical malpractice to me. But what do I know?
 
 
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Nov 24, 2008
Ohnoooooooooo, call me sick but i just couldn't resist. what came to mind was a scenario out of the matrix, 'prisoners in pods'; sedated (heavily), serene, artificially nourished (soy based, strictly vegetarian only please) AND being used as a reusable energy source, new frontiers abound!! i mean really, if we are going to spend all that money to confine, feed, house, and now sedate prisoners we might as well keep ‘em gainfully employed. batteries; and given present crime statistics looks like we'll have plenty to go 'round. best thing since butter, cheaper 'n wind and sun power combined, less dangerous that nuclear, and lower 'n cholesterol too (something for everyone). big boost in the vanity license plate markets, “Nebercanezer1, 2, 3, ...”, “Watt’s up doc”, […]
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
I don't think that question really makes sense. Anyone could be badly upset about being in prison, but that would typically be because they were using their brains to rationally consider their position. The kind of depression that is treated by anti-depressants is a chemical imbalance, that keeps people from being happy/energized/etc no matter what the situation. One's a problem with the wiring but the first one, a prison sentence, is just a punishment.
 
 
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Nov 24, 2008
@webgrunt

Interesting comments about my military posting. I think this is a really tricky subject. It doesn't take much of a slippery slope until you get to the point where the military is composed of a bunch of soldiers who have been drugged against their will and don't even agree with what they're fighting for. They've basically become zombie stormtroopers or something.
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
It's ethical at the same point it's ethical to treat physical illnesses caused by incarceration, for example, sores caused by spending 23 hours a day lying down.

I think the problem most people have, and the issue with the question, is that mental illnesses are seen to be different from physical illnesses where in fact, they're no different.
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
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It sounds like your post assumes that it's ethical for the jailer to wilfully induce depression in people, Scott. It might even sound like you think it is good, or necessary. Can you defend this?

Someone mentioned earlier that perhaps jails exist to punish people. Maybe you can start your defence by pointing to some evidence that there is a large reduction in the crime rate caused by putting criminals in jail. I think you might be surprised when you learn how low the impact is.
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At least some aspect of prison is punishment, otherwise there wouldn't be such a thing as life imprisonment. Our prison system, regardless of how you feel about its effectiveness, is NOT about counseling or rehabilitation, it is almost strictly about punishment. So I think Scott's post is more about if the state and focus of the prison system were to remain constant, would a magical antidepressant conflict with the stated goal or not?

On the other hand, if you want to revolutionize the American penal system it's probably a different argument for a different day.
 
 
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Nov 24, 2008
What about this (somewhat) related issue?...

Do you give anti-depressants to soldiers, so that they will keep fighting?
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
It sounds like your post assumes that it's ethical for the jailer to wilfully induce depression in people, Scott. It might even sound like you think it is good, or necessary. Can you defend this?

Someone mentioned earlier that perhaps jails exist to punish people. Maybe you can start your defence by pointing to some evidence that there is a large reduction in the crime rate caused by putting criminals in jail. I think you might be surprised when you learn how low the impact is.
 
 
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Nov 24, 2008
If prison is just a punishment, why don't we go back to old-fashioned flogging?
Cheaper, shorter and definitely more painful.

You have to find out a way to put them back in the society, and guess what? Who's more likely to commit a crime? A happy, fulfilled person or a depressed, frustrated sociopath?

If you are not able to recover these individuals, it makes more economic sense, under appropriate legislation, to just execute them.
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
> Do you give a prisoner drugs that will make him happy despite being in jail

The idea that antidepressants "make people happy" to compensate for the depression is a worryingly common view and it does a great disservice to the patients and doctors involved. It's generally not the way these things work - You wouldn't expect a plaster cast on a broken leg to make you run faster! (that's not a precise analogy to the condition of depression but it does demonstrate the flawed thinking behind the public perception that antidepressants must be simple mood-improvers).

As I understand it, one symptom of depression involves depleted serotonin in the brain and a sort of "feedback loop" that perpetuates this problem and therefore the emotional condition. Modern SSRI antidepressants aim to improve the balance so that serotonin levels can rise. This does *not* make you happy, nor does it work like an emotional straight jacket. It puts you back closer to "normal" for your brain chemistry so that you're free to be more like "normal" you (i.e. you without your brain chemistry in a positive feedback loop), however you're still free to feel positive / negative emotions, just like you were before the brain chemistry went out of whack in the first place.

Giving modern antidepressants to prisoners emphatically won't remove the psychological unpleasantness of being imprisoned, it certainly won't make prisoners feel good about it. They will still regret the confinement, the lack of contact with loved ones, the restriction of their freedoms and they will be unhappy about this.

Not offering treatment for depression during imprisonment would be little different from refusing treatment for any other illness that happened to be contracted, injuries sustained in the prison workshop, etc.
 
 
Nov 24, 2008
The depression you're talking about is situational depression, which tends to go away once you adapt to the situation. Being sent to prison is probably like learning to deal with the death of a spouse or other family member. At first, it's a disaster, you're sad much of the time, but, in time, you adapt. (You may never be the same, but very few people mourn their entire lives.)

Take a look at the books by Dr. Martin Seligman. His shows research that people have a general level of happiness that fluctuates with their !$%*!$%*!$%*!$ but they tend to return to their general level of happiness as time passes. it's the same whether you're dealing with good things (winning the lottery, getting married, having children, etc.) or dealing with bad things (winning the lottery, getting married, having children, etc.).

As for treating depression in prison, I think drugs are not the way to go, except in cases of debilitating depression (preferably diagnosed before incarceration). Cognitive therapy, on the other hand, can help people learn to cope with sadness, frustration, anxiety, anger, which, as I understand it, prisoners are surrounded with and experience on a daily basis.
 
 
 
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