It seems as if too many nightstands are becoming slightly too crowded these days. If you haven’t noticed already, right next to the family photo, alarm clock, and water bottle, there is this little orange bottle with a white cap and pale blue label standing tall with the words “Take Me.” I mean, it does have your name and address on it, so it belongs there, right? Not necessarily. According to Harvard Health Publications, “The federal government’s health statisticians figure that about one in every 10 Americans takes an antidepressant.” That means that there has been 400% increase in antidepressant prescriptions since the best seller Listening to Prozac was published in 1993. There has been much debate on whether or this epidemic is helping or hurting us. Were depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues underdiagnosed in the past? Are more people becoming depressed? Is marketing done by pharmaceutical companies responsible for this increase?
Let us begin with understanding that antidepressants have been a blessing for a proportion of the population. Once someone has exhausted all other means to treat what has been diagnosed as a mental illness, a prescription may or may not be warranted. However, judging those taking antidepressants, and/or those who believe they have a mental illness, is a job for no one other than the individual and their health care provider(s). However, there has been a major shift in how mental illness has been treated since Prozac hit the market in 1987. It has become a widely accepted theory that mental illness is a result of chemical imbalances in the brain that can only be fixed with psychoactive drugs. Instead of trying “talk therapy” first, and prescribing antidepressants second, many psychiatrists suggest psychotherapy, if at all, after prescribing drugs. It is now considered “normal” by many health care professionals, the media, and the public to go straight to the prescription tablet without attempting any sort of alternative treatment at all. Prescription drugs have become the dominant solution to the exponential increase of diagnosed mental illness. Unfortunately, for some of those who have taken this brisk path to alleged happiness, the results are unsettling.
Yes, some people feel more animated and clearheaded after taking antidepressants, however, others don’t feel the positive effects that they were promised. In fact, they don’t feel anything at all. Take this testimony, for example, that was published in Oprah Magazine in March of 2006:
“I feel emotionally castrated because not only do I not have negative feelings, I barely feel anything at all. I’m an artist who can no longer draw or paint or create. Instead, I sit around and do absolutely nothing.”
— B.J. Cade, 53
Many others have reported memory impairment, dullness, numbness, and other cognitive side effects that have ultimately lead to them feeling “zombie-like.” Other personal testimonies have revealed that when they suggested to their doctor that they were experiencing delayed recall and “brain-zaps” (what feels like a pinched nerve combined with pulsating migraines in your brain after forgetting to take ONE pill), not only were they told that antidepressants do not have these cognitive side effects, but their dose was increased! Technically, the doctor is telling you what they were told, which isn’t much. If, according to government standards, “there’s insufficient data to prove that the drugs cause the symptom,” pharmaceutical companies are not obliged to “report or disclose cognitive side effects.” However, when the FDA requires approval for antidepressants, the studies only last a mere 6-8 weeks long. This time frame simply isn’t always long enough to prove a cause and effect relationship between these drugs and certain cognitive side effects. It wasn’t until the relationship between suicide and antidepressants began to surface that the FDA announced a public health advisory warning that “adults on these drugs should be watched closely for suicidal thinking or behavior.”
It is scary enough that many of us think that taking anti-depressants is our only option after we are told what pharmaceutical companies are obliged to tell us, while also ignoring other “inconclusive” side-effects. For example, it has been released that taking antidepressants for bi-polar disorder may make the disorder worse, and even trigger manic episodes. In addition, bone loss, fractures, and falls all become increased risks for individuals over 65 taking SSRIs. While these side effects differ for each individual, we should address the main issue at hand: many of us aren’t exploring alternative treatments. In addition to “talk therapy” with a mental health provider, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, etc. here are a few other suggestions to try on your own:
Set Goals for Yourself
Having a daily routine may be comforting, but a humdrum lifestyle does not leave any room for improvement. Start with something you know you can accomplish so you don’t discourage yourself, and work your way up. Change for the better can leave you with a sensation of fulfillment, energy, and purpose. Sometimes we need that extra push to get our lives back on track, especially if we do the pushing.
Change Your Diet
They say “you are what you eat,” so if you are eating junk and other food that isn’t giving you the mental and physical strength you need, you will start to feel the effects. Eating foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to improve cognitive heath. Replacing your late night ice-cream with an avocado could bring you one step closer to boosting your mental state.
Try will taking a short walk outside every day, (setting goals!), and work up to a holistic exercise program such as yoga. Spending time with nature may increase the health of your mind, body, and soul. “Regular physical activity seems to encourage the brain to rewire itself in positive ways,” according to Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA. You release endorphins when you exercise, which are those natural “feel-good” chemicals in your body.
Regardless of the reason that more people have reserved an extra spot on their nightstand for antidepressants, there a few things that the warning label may not be telling us. If you are searching for advice and alternative treatment to help with depression, consult a doctor such as Dr. Bordenave at Miami Integrative Medicine to assist you. You can do this!
Griffin, R. M. “10 Natural Depression Treatments.” Depression Health Center. WebMD, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/natural-treatments>.
Ramin, Cathryn J. “Valley of the Dulls.” Are Antidepressant Drugs Helpful or Harmful? Oprah.com, Mar. 2006. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.oprah.com/health/Are-Antidepressant-Drugs-Helpful-or-Harmful>.
Smith, Melinda, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Damon Ramsey, MD. “What You Need to Know About Medications for Depression.” Antidepressants (Depression Medication). HelpGuide.org, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.helpguide.org/mental/medications_depression.htm>.
Wehrwein, Peter. “Astounding Increase in Antidepressant Use by Americans.” Harvard Health Blog RSS. Harvard Health Publications, 20 Oct. 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/astounding-increase-in-antidepressant-use-by-americans-201110203624>.
Photo 1: hetetichusband.com
Photo 2: functionaltherapymedicine.com