Placebos have always intrigued me.  A placebo is a fake pill and has no theraputic effect on the person presecribed the tablets.  Placebos are usually used in drug trials to find out whether a new drug is effective by giving one group the new drug and the ‘control group’ the placebo and measuring the effects.  The placebo effect is described as any effect, positive or negative, the placebo has had on the participants.  Even today many doctors routinely use placebos.

You see, the thing is, when you go to the doctor most of us expect the doctor to make us better, to provide us with the right medicine to cure us from our suffering, whatever that may be.  However, studies have shown that when the doctor shows confidence and is warm and attentive to their patient’s, placebo response actually increases, therefore maybe the doctor’s interaction with the patient has a bigger part to play in our recovery from illness they we, or they, fully realise.

Research in this area has shown us that when we take a tablet and believe that the tablet will make us better we inevitably get better, highlighting the unfathonable power of our minds.  This also supports the reason why optimists respond better to placebo treatment.

Now, you would imagine there would need to be a degree of deception involved in order that the placebo has some effect on a patient.  Afterall, if you knew the placebo was a ‘fake drug’ then there would be no opportunity to trick the mind, surely?


Placebos without Deception was a study published in 2010 by Ted Kaptchuk at the Harvard Medical School.  He was open and honest with all his participants and gave one group tablets while the other group received no treatment.  He found that the group taking the placebo reported twice as much relief as the other group.  It seems taking a pill, even knowing there is nothing in it, has a theraputic impact on the body.

Recent research has found that doctors in England prescribed 64 million antidepressants in 2016 compared to just 9 million prescriptions in 1991 and 47 million in 2012.  It seems antidepressant use in England is escalating, fast.

With mental health being so prevalent in the news today, especially teenage mental health this is a worrying statistic.  As a teacher I have seen a growing rise in the number of young people being prescribed antidepressants.  Instead of being a last resort for treatment it seems to be given out like sweets to our young people.  Our teenagers today need to depend on their own capacities to some degree at least surely, rather than drugs.  Our young people need to learn that life is inevitably painful at times and that being happy all the time is an unobtainable goal.  Often it is in our darkest days we experience the most personal growth yet, the moment our young people feel sad, lonely or down they believe there must be something wrong with them.  For some, needless to say, this could be true, but this certainly isn’t the case for all.  I wonder how many of these young people are prescribed placebos rather than anti-depressants.

John Tomsett, in his latest book, ‘Improving Mental Health in Schools’ discusses happiness in its most simplistic form.  It is sitting down in a room on a Saturday night together with the people you love and watching TV, sharing the joy and laughter and having that overwhelming sense of security.  He points out,

With the advent of multi-television set homes, tablets and iplayer, TV schedules are no longer the glue that holds the family together. (P.47)

Is there a correlation between the rise in technology and the rise in the number of antidepressants prescribed to our young people?

The North and East of England come out the worst areas for antidepressant use in England which Peter Kinderman, President of the British Psychological Society and Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool said, the findings were consistent with established theories on what causes depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. Lack of opportunity, deprivation and a lack of meaning and purpose in life in areas worst affected such as Blackpool, Sunderland and East Lindsey.”

We need to target the root of the epidemic to reduce the use of anti-depressants in the UK.  If placebos have the desired effect, proving the power and effectiveness of mind over matter then let’s plow our money into educating our young people about positive mental health rather than dishing out anti-depressants.  If my child was prescribed a placebo and both my child and I were led to believe it was a real drug but later found it was a placebo, I would welcome this move by the doctor, especially if it made my child feel better even if in fact that was just mind over matter.  This would cost the NHS less but more importantly it would build mentally strong and resilient young people who feel empowered to deal with whatever life throws at them.  This is what I want for my children and I’m sure most parents would agree.  So let’s build positive mental health into our education system from primary school and equip our young people to thrive in life, no matter what and avoid this culture we are creating of reliance on drugs to make life worth living.



‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

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