Health And Wellness

My Doctor Prescribed Me Pseudoscience 'Crystals' To Treat My Depression

Photo: Jozef Klopacka / Shutterstock
woman holding crystal

I think that I can speak for a lot of people when I say I’m obsessed with shiny, colorful things.

If I see you wearing cute earrings, I’m asking where you got them. If I see a fun, fruity beverage, I’m buying it. Maybe it’s because my generation was raised on instant gratification, or maybe it’s just part of the human condition. After all, gilt has been a symbol of wealth for thousands of years.

Crystals are perhaps the ultimate shiny, colorful thing. From jade and rose quartz to citrine and opal, it seems like more and more small retail businesses are peddling stones. And I’m always tempted to buy them.

But I usually resist.

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The problem with crystals is that they’re a loaded cultural symbol. Sure, many people just appreciate them for their aesthetic, but others believe that these stones have legitimate healing properties. I’ve always been on the skeptical side.

Regardless of my opinions, crystals are rising in popularity among Gen Z. TikToks under the hashtag “#crystals” have been viewed over 12.4 billion times. Google Trends shows that the search term “crystal healing” peaked in popularity around the time of the pandemic and has remained relevant since.

While none of my friends are into crystals, I always figured it was only a matter of time before they found their way into my circle.

But the last person I expected to push crystals was my doctor.

Yet there I was, this past June, waiting in an exam room for a follow-up for my antidepressant medication. I was filling out a fun little worksheet (the PHQ-9), ticking off my symptoms like they were items on a grocery list.

Finally, there was a knock on the door. I turned my head up to greet my doctor, smiling awkwardly. He’s a middle-aged man in good shape, bald and blue-eyed, always carrying a gentle atmosphere with him.

That day, he was dressed casually save for his usual jewelry and the stethoscope around his neck. A wire-cage crystal necklace hung below the stethoscope. Bracelets adorned with dark stones decorated his wrist.

We talked for just a few minutes, discussing symptoms and side effects— you know, the usual. It felt like too soon when we had run out of things to say.

“I like your shirt,” he said, being polite. It wasn’t even a cool shirt. I’d woken up about 12 minutes before my appointment and threw on something without any thought.

“Thanks,” I replied, still appreciative of his kindness. My eyes scrambled for something I could compliment back. “I like your jewelry.”

“Thank you!”

“Do the crystals mean anything?”

Honestly, I was expecting him to say no, that he was just wearing them as accessories. He was, after all, a medical doctor. In my mind, there was little overlap between the scientific and pseudoscientific spheres of thought.

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But he lit up with enthusiasm. “They do!”

The necklace, he explained, was aventurine. The bracelets were garnished with black turquoise. “A rare stone,” he specified. I forget his exact descriptions of their properties, but they both amounted to promoting positivity and protection.

“I actually got into a car accident recently,” he continued. “It’s hard not to feel guilty, to not wish things had gone differently. These remind me to stay grounded and not blame myself for a situation that I can’t control.”

I was interpreting his words with caution, but that point felt reasonable. Having a physical object to turn to for comfort can be helpful in dark times.

Still, it was bizarre to hear my doctor championing a remedy that was pseudoscientific at worst and based on a contested belief system at best.

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We continued talking for a few minutes, and he gave me the name of a local crystal shop that I could check out if I felt like I resonated with his words. “This could be something we connect over,” he suggested. I agreed, but inside, I had mixed feelings.

I worked in a geochemistry laboratory for almost two years, so I had no delusions that crystals could magically heal me. Still, it felt wrong to dismiss his lived experience. Was there any basis for his claims?

I decided that it was time for some research.

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My Googling endeavors made it clear that crystal healing is considered a pseudoscience, just as I thought. This means that studies suggest that real and fake crystals have similar mental effects if any.

This is known as a placebo effect: there’s nothing special about the crystals themselves, but mere belief is enough for some people to experience stress relief.

We should also remember that the new-age version of crystal healing doesn’t speak for all practitioners. Crystals are integrated into many world religions that have been around for hundreds to thousands of years, including Hinduism, Paganism, and Native American belief systems.

In the same way that prayer candles or Star of David necklaces may bring comfort to their owners, crystals can act as objects that serve as reminders of positive constructs.

In the words of psychology professor Zhuo Job Chen, “It’s hard to argue against people who believe in the psychological effects of crystals. [...] Those are genuine experiences we have to respect.”

But not all types of crystal healing deserve legitimacy. 

There have been instances of people believing that crystals have the power to cure serious illnesses like cancer. Studies show that turning solely to alternative medicine in these cases results in a 250% increase in the likelihood of death within five years.

My investigation also made me consider another major issue: the crystal industry itself. Reporting has revealed that remote crystal mines in countries like Madagascar make use of child labor and dangerous working conditions. These mass mining endeavors also contribute to environmental destruction in some of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

All of this for a placebo effect? I thought.

In our pursuit of respite from the uncertain world around us, we hardly think of these consequences. It’s not our fault— it’s intrinsic to how our society is set up.

Corporations see the mass anxiety brought on by things like the pandemic, rising costs of living, and geopolitical conflicts as an opportunity to profit off wellness culture and perpetuate the cycle of global suffering.

Think about that Google Trends report I brought up earlier— I don’t think that the rise of interest in crystals during the height of COVID-19 is a coincidence. People are trying to find comfort in anything they can.

The fact that my doctor told me I should get into crystals is, to me, a symptom of the stressful times we find ourselves living through. He wasn’t denying modern medicine. I walked out with a script and a sense that he had my best interests in mind, even if I was taken aback.

My doctor found comfort in something, and he wanted me to find comfort, too. Considering my love of shiny, colorful things, I can begin to empathize with him.

If I find joy in a candle or enamel pin, who am I to criticize those who find joy in a rock?

Does that mean I’m going to start walking around with crystals?

Probably not, but I can recognize that serotonin is a hot commodity right now. So as long as it isn’t harming anyone, I will respect what works for you, and I hope others will respect what works for me.

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Alex Music is a student at Florida State University studying Geography and Applied Mathematics, but her passion lies in writing everything from poetry and prose to nonfiction articles.

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