It’s no secret that the number of antidepressants being prescribed over the last two decades has increased dramatically. In fact, according to a recent government study, the number of antidepressant prescriptions increased by 16 million, up from 154 million to 170 million, between 2002 and 2005 alone.
Why such an increase? There are probably several reasons.
Drug companies try to reap as much profit as possible by developing new medications all the time. People see drug company advertisements for antidepressants on television and ask their doctors about them. Internists and GPs take the line of least resistance and prescribe the medications, while psychiatrists are paid handsomely by insurance companies for medication management. Also, doctors are not Gods and they do occasionally make misdiagnoses.
But I believe that most caring, honest and thorough doctors know the difference between sadness and depression and will not prescribe antidepressants for the former. Depression is sadness spiraling out of control. Its symptoms include drastically impaired sleep, total lack of interest in pleasurable activities, persistent feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and complete social isolation. Depression may begin with sadness over a difficult life circumstance, like the loss of a loved one, but it becomes an illness at a point where a person has difficulty functioning on a day-to-day basis.
Is There One Right Answer For Everyone?
Even for people who have been diagnosed with clinical depression by competent doctors, there is much debate in mental health circles about the benefits of antidepressants. I, myself, have been stabilized on the same medication for over twenty years, and have had negligible side effects from it. When my psychiatrist tried to wean me off of the medication, my depression reared its head again. Antidepressants have therefore been a lifesaver for me.
On the other hand, I know a fellow blogger who says that for him, the side effects from antidepressants were as disabling as his depression. He now maintains himself on a diet of cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise and meditation. Then there are the people who take medication for awhile, and once they have learned the proper coping skills, can get off of it. So there is no one right answer for everyone.
What you do need to know is that even if your psychiatrist puts you on an antidepressant, a positive outcome the first time around is not guaranteed. It’s a matter of trial and error until the psychiatrist finds the right medication or mix of medications that work for you. No two people respond the same to a given medication and what works for another person might not work for you. Additionally, medication is never a substitute for other treatment modalities like therapy and exercise. Medication works best when it is integrated into a total treatment plan.
Although some studies have shown that taking antidepressants can lead to increased depression and even suicidal thinking, especially in adolescents and young adults, the research has been inconclusive on this count. Nevertheless, close observation by mental health professionals, family, and friends is necessary to guard against this potential side effect, especially when beginning antidepressants or when increasing or decreasing the dose.
You should also never suddenly stop taking your antidepressants. You should get off them gradually under the guidance of a psychiatrist who can monitor your mood and progress. Though it can be tempting to stop taking medication once your condition has improved, (particularly if you feel pressured by family who think taking medication is a sign of weakness), your depression might return if you were to do so.
GPs who prescribe antidepressants at the drop of a symptom when they should refer the patient to a psychiatrist are doing a disservice to their patients. And psychiatrists who prescribe antidepressants cavalierly are doing the same. But in this climate it’s also the patient and the patient’s family’s responsibility to become educated as to the signals of a true clinical depression. They must become aware if sadness has turned into something prolonged and crippling. If so, it might be time to look at treatment that includes giving antidepressants a try.
In sum, there are many factors that have contributed to the explosion in antidepressant medication prescriptions. But as a society, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that we are taking antidepressants for the right reasons. That means only if we truly need them.
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19 thoughts on “Are Antidepressants For You?”
Wendy, thank you for presenting such a balanced view of antidepressants. It’s frustrating to me to see these drugs both bashed as completely unnecessary and praised as the solution for all problems.
I have used antidepressants in the past and I’ve also used cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy. These are all great tools when used appropriately but mental health treatment seems to be more art than science. For me, the key is to keep trying things until you find something that works – and stay open to many possibilities. One size definitely doesn’t fit all.
Thank you for writing this article.
I haven’t tried antidepressants, but in the past I suffered from depression. Perhaps I should have tried antidepressants at the time? I certainly don’t think there should be any shame to taking them. Depression is a horrible, horrible thing to have.
Very interested to hear peoples’ experiences with depression and/ or antidepressants.
I have to say, I’ve read a lot of research that seems to indicate antidepressants are completely ineffective except in a small subset of cases. With that said, I’ve taken them before, and I’ve found that positive thinking techniques are much more effective (for me, at least).
A lot of people try to address the problem of depression without addressing the underlying psychological symptoms. Many people continue forward with the same negative outlook on life and never get better. There’s one thing I realized that helped me tremendously: Happiness is a choice, not a privilege that is reserved for only the most lucky of people.
No matter what your circumstances, you can approach life in such a way that every day brings something new and positive. Just look at terminal cancer patients who enjoy each and every day.
I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist, but I have a feeling that most people who take antidepressants don’t actually need them.
Thank you for addressing the topic.
I have studied and practiced alternative therapies and most of the teachers were dead against mainstream medicine and techniques – disparaging even. I take medication for epilepsy and even that was considered “a sin”; a weakness.
I believe there is a time and place for medication and a time and a place for alterantive routes – or even a combination. Each person has different needs and responds differently to various therapies. The aim is to find something that works and not prove that one particular modality fits all.
As someone who has struggled with the use of antidepressants and have had to deal with side-effects that the drug companies knew about, but did NOT report, I urge anyone considering SSRis to read “Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial” by Alison Bass. It reads like a thriller – but it’s all real:
I struggled for years with the decision to use or not use anti-depressants.
I subscribed to the thinking that if i took them it was because i was “weak” or “overreacting”. So many people told me that it was the wrong thing to do, and for a long time, i believed them. People think depressed people should be able to “snap out of it”, but I couldn’t snap out of it, and I tried for ten years. I am only young but I have suffered debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety since I was a young teen. I tried anything I could get my hands on to manage my condition, including:
– counselling; many methods with several psychologists.
– natural supplements/vitamins
– diet and exercise
Most things seemed to have little or no effect, with the exception of diet and exercise. It helped a lot to eat serotonin boosting foods, as well as do regular exercise and cut out caffeine (for anxiety mostly).
But these things only ever stave off the depression, they don’t get rid of it. Nothing so far can get rid of the anxiety, other than my antidepressants.
I realise these drugs may be massively over-prescribed, but who knows? Just because we have never had these drugs available before does not mean depression and related mental illnesses never existed. And as for side-effects? Yes, they are terrible if you are unfortunate enough to experience them, but most medications have side-effects, not just anti-depressants. We don’t stop people with cancer from having chemotherapy just because they vomit all day.
Mental Illness isn’t physical. You can’t see it by looking at someone. On the outside I appear to be a normal, functioning person, but I’m not. I have depression, and thank god somebody created something that makes me feel normal every day. Until something else comes along, I’ll stick with this method.
I understand why people are against anti-depressants. But try not to judge those who really do need them – we are just doing what we believe is best.
I can certainly identify with your insightful comments.
Your comment near the end caught my eye: “Thank God somebody created something that makes me feel NORMAL every day. Until something else comes along, I’ll stick with this method.”
Interesting how people who don’t understand the debillitating effects of clinical depression are often quick to say we shouldn’t take meds. I have come to realize that one must make the decision to do what’s right for them, without needing to defend (or almost appologize in some cases.) People don’t appologize for thyroid meds, chemo, or high blood pressure meds….
We should never be concerned what other people think–that alone can be counterproductive to becoming well. We toss the idea around and around in our own minds if we should take the meds or not, but once we come to our OWN conclusion and understand what’s best for us, then a lot of the battle is won.
Be kind to ourselves!
God Bless you and I wish you well!
i do believe antidepressants can help people get rid of depression’s symptoms until they get rid of the real reason causing depression, this means that antidepressants alone aren’t the solution but they are pain killers
It will be great if one can deal without any medication and I wonder is there any alternative ways to help deal with depression.
Personal Development Blogger
I’ve seen medication improve people’s lives so I believe it has it’s place, but I personally think that there are deeper issues to be addressed and that medication is more treating the symptoms rather than the underlying cause.
I have been dealing with depression on and off for almost 20 years. I have been on 5 different medications and was finally hospitalized this past May.
My new therapist on the first day of meeting me, told me she didn’t think I was depressed, I just don’t do what I want and live the live I want and need to live. If I make some changes I won’t be depressed. Going to go along with this for a while and try.
I stopped taking meds again.
very interesting. I agree that it’s like every problem you get, doctors relate it to some type of disease where a prescription medicine is required. Kevin Turdeau’s book is a fun read for this type of topic.
Hi Wendy, I believe more in natural treatment like meditation, counseling and exercise than medicine. I have never used such medicine myself.
Thanks for sharing.
As a person who’s taken antidepressants for the past year and a half, I feel I must speak out in favour of them. I firmly believe that they saved my life. It’s important to understand that Depression can have many causes. Some are external, and some are internal. External causes are not easily treated by medication. These are the causes that must be eliminated at the source, or else our view of them changed so that they are no longer problems. It is the internal causes, such as chemical imbalances, that respond very well to antidepressants and tend to have few occurrences of side effects.
Some people, myself included, are lucky, and have a caring, honest doctor whom we’ve known most of our lives. When depressed, you are almost by definition not in a good place to assess your problem clearly and rationally. The things that seem like they’re depressing you may be blown completely out of proportion by your depression! This is why it’s so important to speak with a professional about this. If you injured yourself physically, there’d be very little debate on whether or not to go to the hospital. Depression is a mental injury that can have many causes. Medical professionals are best suited to helping you figure out the causes and stopping them.
I do feel I have to add a little addendum here. I live in Canada, where our medical professionals are not beholden to pharmaceutical companies. As with everything on the Internet, YMMV.
Thank you for your excellent feedback on the topic of Antidepressants.
I agree with everything you said.
Also, excellent response from Jessica as well.
I too, am from Canada.
God Bless the both of you.
I have been depressed for as long as I can remember. I became devoted to daily exercise, and began doing well academically after struggling for a couple of years, but the underlying feelings of hopelessness and misery never seemed to subside. I self-medicated with illicit drugs junior year of high school. After a parental intervention, I was brought to a psychiatrist, who immediately diagnosed me with clinical depression.
I can honestly say that anti-depressants have saved my life. As a sophomore in college, I now am in a place that I never thought I would be in. I still struggle with anxiety and depression from external factors, but the reality is that I never would have been able to face these factors without the help of anti-depressants. The medication took a serious weight off my shoulders, so that I could begin to effectively face my problems. My relationships with my family and friends improved substantially. I finally felt that there was a purpose to life, that I had gifts to share with the world and goals that can be fulfilled.
Meds aren’t for everyone, but sometimes the internal chemical imbalance needs to be treated before progress can be made. Everyone can benefit from talk therapy, healthy diet and exercise, and many of the other tips given on this blog.
I took anti depressants for a year and a half while undergoing psychotherapy. i think the therapy helped more. the antidepressants brough my chemicals back to a level where i was stronger again. but had so many side effects and made me dizzy all the time
Anti depressants and God saved my life…never give up!!
I think it’s up to the individual to really asses the situation. It’s our own maze to find ourselves out of – but no one can see we’re in it – so how can know the best way out ? We can only take suggestions.