Years ago, I lived in a village in England where the locals still spoke fondly of the retired family doctor and his maverick style of treating patients. When confronted by a patient who was depressed or just ‘down in the dumps’, he would unscrew a bottle of whisky and the two of them would drink it to the last dregs. The doctor didn’t always get home afterwards, and sometimes accidentally missed his driveway and drove instead into an adjacent ditch, where he would spend an hour or so until the grip of his therapy loosened.
He may not have known too much about drink and driving, or the adverse effects on his liver, but he knew something that the bright young things from med school didn’t.
Dr Whisky realized there was a link between our minds, emotions and our bodies. So it’s pleasing to see that today’s doctors are finally being taught about this vital connection. Practice notes on this very subject have recently appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which reports on findings from scientists.
Linguists have discovered that expressions that use body parts to explain pain – such as ‘having a broken heart’ and ‘it’s like a kick in the guts’ – are found in virtually every language.
But the association isn’t just metaphorical. Our brain circuitry is structured in such a way that a stinging rebuke or insult can hurt as much as a twisted ankle.
The link may be stronger than we currently think, although doctors have recognized for several decades that physical pain and depression are intertwined. Up to 80 per cent of patients with depression first complain about some physical symptom, and don’t even realize that they are depressed.
Of course, being in a medical journal, the article then goes on about the wonderful opportunity this is for the pharmaceuticals to come up with a new generation of antidepressants. We reckon you’d be better off with Dr Whisky.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; 290: 2389-90).