From: Udhay Shankar N (email@example.com)
Date: Sun Apr 16 2000 - 23:21:03 PDT
Finally. An interesting new take on the mania.
The Third Culture
Randolph M. Nesse, M.D.
Is the Market on Prozac?
The press has been preoccupied with possible explanations
for the current extraordinary boom. Many articles say, as they
always do while a bubble grows, that this market is "different."
Some attribute the difference to new information technology.
Others credit changes in foreign trade, or the baby boomer's
lack of experience with a real economic depression. But you
never see a serious story about the possibility that this market
is different because investor's brains are different. There is
good reason to suspect that they are.
Prescriptions for psychoactive drugs have increased from 131
million in 1988 to 233 million in 1998, with nearly 10 million
prescriptions filled last year for Prozac alone. The market for
antidepressants in the USA is now $6.3 billion per year.
Additional huge numbers of people use herbs to influence their
moods. I cannot find solid data on how many people in the
USA take antidepressants, but a calculation based on sales
suggests a rough estimate of 20 million.
What percent of brokers, dealers, and investors are taking
antidepressant drugs? Wealthy, stressed urbanites are
especially likely to use them. I would not be surprised to learn
that one in four large investors has used some kind of
mood-altering drug. What effects do these drugs have on
investment behavior? We don't know. A 1998 study by Brian
Knutson and colleagues found that the serotonin specific
antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil) did not cause euphoria in
normal people, but did block negative affects like fear and
sadness. From seeing many patients who take such agents, I
know that some experience only improved mood, often a
miraculous and even life-saving change. Others, however,
report that they become far less cautious than they were
before, worrying too little about real dangers. This is exactly
the mind-set of many current investors.
Human nature has always given rise to booms and bubbles,
followed by crashes and depressions. But if investor caution is
being inhibited by psychotropic drugs, bubbles could grow
larger than usual before they pop, with potentially catastrophic
economic and political consequences. If chemicals are
inhibiting normal caution in any substantial fraction of
investors, we need to know about it. A more positive
interpretation is also easy to envision. If 20 million workers are
more engaged and effective, to say nothing of showing up for
work more regularly, that is a dramatic tonic for the economy.
There is every reason to think that many workers and their
employers are gaining such benefits. Whether the overall
mental health of the populace is improving remains an open
question, however. Overall rates of depression seem stable or
increasing in most technological countries, and the suicide
rate is stubbornly unchanged despite all the new efforts to
recognize and treat depression.
The social effects of psychotropic medications is the
unreported story of our time. These effects may be small, but
they may be large, with the potential for social catastrophe or
positive transformation. I make no claim to know which
position is correct, but I do know that the question is important,
unstudied, and in need of careful research. What government
agency is responsible for ensuring that such investigations get
carried out? The National Institute of Mental Health? The
Securities and Exchange Commission? Thoughtful
investigative reporting can give us preliminary answers that
should help to focus attention on the social effects of
Randoph M. Nesse, M.D., is Professor of Psychiatry, Director,
ISR Evolution and Human Adaptation Program, The University
of Michigan and coauthor (with George C. Williams) of Why
We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine.
LINK: Randolph Nesse Home Page
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