Seventeen million Americans today are taking antidepressants, spending 11.3 billion dollars for the privilege of doing so. Kind of depressing, wouldn't you say? Rather than get depressed, however, I get angry.
Why? Because we have been fed so many phony "facts" about depression, we now simply accept them as true when we should really be applauding the drug companies for a super successful relentless marketing campaign.
You hear the ads everywhere. But here's what you won't hear about anti-depressant drugs.
- They don't work for about 86% of patients. (Wow, that's a high number.)
- They are least effective for those who are mildly or moderately depressed.
- They are sometimes prescribed for children as young as 6 years old.
- They have dangerous side effects, including an increased risk of suicide, particularly for the young. (Go figure!)
- They have unpleasant side effects. Weight gain and lack of libido are the two big ones. But let's not leave out dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, sweating, fatigue, headaches, diarrhea, constipation. (Are you kidding me? If I weren't depressed before taking these meds, I'd be now!)
- It has not been proven to be true that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Repeat something often enough, however, and everyone believes it. If depression is supposed to be caused by low serotonin levels, then how come doctors don't monitor your serotonin and prescribe only when your levels are dangerously low? Answer: Your serotonin levels are in a constant state of flux, depending upon what you're thinking, feeling and doing at the moment. Oh, and one more reason: it would entail an invasive brain procedure. And who wants that? So we operate under an assumption that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin and prescribe medication to fix the problem.
- Even when anti-depressants work, they don't address the underlying problems. They don't increase your coping skills. They don't teach you how to manage your emotions. They don't provide you with what you'll need to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life. Though anti-depressants may create an initial boost of positive emotion, the body inevitably adapts to it. Then, a higher dosage or an alternative drug or a cocktail of drugs is prescribed.
- " 60 Minutes " recently broadcast an "explosive" report on "new scientific research" that shows that antidepressants were no more effective than placebos for treating mild and moderate depression. Will this finding affect the ever increasing trend for Americans to search for solutions in a pill? Don't bet on it. Studies linking the placebo effect to antidepressants have been around for more than a decade. In 2010, Newsweek and Time magazines ran major stories about the "depressing news about anti-depressants." Yet, the number of prescriptions written keeps climbing.
- There are safer and better alternatives for treating depression. Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy has been proven to be an effective treatment for those with mild or moderate depression. Psychotherapy comes with no disturbing or dangerous side effects.And its benefits last a lifetime, as one learns to cope with difficult situations and overwhelming emotions.
So, why is it that people remain hooked on anti-depressants?
The typical scenario goes something like this. You're feeling down, helpless, unsure about what to do or whom to turn to. As you flip through the magazine, watch the commercial, surf the net, you're repeatedly exposed to a melancholy, mournful lost soul. Twenty seconds later, this person has morphed into a lighthearted, unflappable, joyful soul who's running through the daisies to embrace loved ones.
The rational part of us recognizes this as Madison Avenue hype; yet the emotional part of us gets hooked. We long for an easy, effortless solution. Modern medicine is constantly delivering miracles, perhaps it can also help with depression. As the ad advises, you speak with your doctor. You describe your symptoms in the 12 minutes allotted to you. Your doctor checks for somatic signs that may be a causal factor. If there's nothing significant, he'll probably prescribe an anti-depressant. Typically there's no mention of psychotherapy, physical exercise, or nutrition. It's not the way the system works. It's not the doctor's forte. It's not in the time budget of a doctor's busy day.
And the beat goes on; the beat goes on.