I WATCHED an interesting show a while ago about a miserable parrot. In an episode of the program Bondi Vet, Chris Brown treated a self-mutilating parrot suffering depression.
The bird had fallen in love with its owner, and would self-mutilate by ripping out its feathers when it saw her with her husband, Brown said. The parrot would also charge at the man and act in an aggressive manner to intimidate the other male in the household.
The vet decided that ‘‘Harry’’ was seeking attention and sympathy, and put him on the antidepressant Prozac. Harry’s feathers started growing back after a few weeks and his hostility towards his male owner disappeared.
According to an article in National Geographic magazine: ‘‘Prozac is now given to zoo animals and pets suffering from problems including obsessive-compulsive disorders, aggression, and separation anxiety.’’ The article says market research shows animal-lovers in the US spend $15 million on a variety of medications for behaviour management in pets. A dalmatian stopped biting its owners up to 40 times a week after being put on antidepressants, the article claims.
I find the whole topic fascinating. I think it explains the phenomenon of high rates of depression among human beings. It has something to do with depression and captivity, or a sense of captivity.
As I have disclosed, I suffer depression. I have noticed my episodes are worst during long stints indoors, for instance during the winter months or when I have a deadline that requires months of work in a con- fined, isolating space such as an office or home office. When I travel, the depression improves quite naturally.
I have often pondered this strange fact, but reading about the high rates of anxiety disorders in pets and zoo animals made me understand something we rarely face: the importance of the role of freedom in happiness and wellbeing. Animals in the wild don’t suffer anxiety disorders and compulsive behaviours, or at least David Attenborough has never told us they do. Free animals hunt and play together, and roam. Only animals that are captive or domesticated become neurotic: dogs forced to sit in gardens much of the day; cats locked in the house alone; birds in cages.
So, what does that say about our often sedentary, isolating, domesticated lifestyles in the West? I’m not saying there’s necessarily a choice for many of us, ham-strung as we are by commitments. It’s just that I know the value to me of riding a jeep across Africa, or climbing a mountain in India, gazing into the orange after- noon light. When the soul feels free, a natural sense of wellbeing follows. The power of freedom cannot be put into a tablet for animals or humans.