Over the last twenty years the prescription rate and use of antidepressants has increased to the point where one American in ten is taking antidepressants. When you look at the group of women in their 40s and 50s, the percentage rises to one in four.
Many speculate that the worsening economy has added to those suffering from stress and anxiety. We’re encouraged by television ads to “talk to our doctor” about taking one anti-depressant or another. Insurance plans usually cover most medications. What they don’t cover is counseling, which is more likely what people need.
A recent study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that over two-thirds of the patients who had been given the diagnosis of depression in the previous year did not meet the criteria.
This doesn’t surprise me. I accompanied my teenage daughter to the doctor when she was having trouble sleeping and felt exhausted all the time. We suspected that she was having either chronic sinus issues or had developed an allergy to our new home as we had recently moved to the area. The doctor barely listened to her responses and kept bringing her back to how she was feeling.
My daughter, generally cheerful and happy, finally asked the doctor, “What do you want to know?”
Her doctor answered, “I think you’re depressed. I’m going to start you an an anti-depressant.”
We respectfully refused the diagnosis, sought out another doctor who confirmed that my daughter was, indeed, suffering from a sinus infection likely brought on by chronic postnasal drip from an allergy. A short course of a nasal steroid turned everything around and within a week, my daughter was sleeping better because she could finally breathe at night.
I thought this was an isolated incident, but as I spoke with more people, I was shocked to discover that most young people in their teens and twenties are taking antidepressants.
One young woman discovered that she was pregnant. She went against her doctor’s advice, and carefully weaned herself off her antidepressants. She had the usual hormonal fluctuations of any expectant mother. The most striking distinction however was after her son was born, she said, “I haven’t felt this alive in years! I can finally feel things.”
This is a common complaint for many people taking antidepressants. Doctors persuade saying, “It will take the edge off.” But perhaps handling that “edge” handling those difficult emotions are what prepare us for the rest of our lives.
Those who meet the criteria of serious depression certainly benefit from taking antidepressants. But perhaps it might be better to give people a chance to feel before we take the edge off. Learning to deal with anxiety, stress, even grief is part of living. Not everything that is difficult to handle needs to be muted.