It’s no secret that millions of Americans each year are prescribed antidepressant medication to help them better handle their depressed mood state and overall outlook on life. Ironically, even though millions of people (including many kids) are prescribed these medications, psychiatric medical experts like Dr. Peter Breggin are very outspoken about the many issues and problems with these drugs. Still, the beat goes on as increasingly more people each year turn to pills to beat their woes, rather than other less risky endeavors to improve their mental toughness, including exercise, learning new coping skills, or psychological counseling.
Since around the year 2000 when anti-depressant commercials began to really hit the television airways, it’s been very interesting to look back and see how far we have come in the last 10+ years. As a practicing clinician, I would like to make ten personal observations related to antidepressants (including efficacy), general wellness, and established paradigms in America that have stayed relatively stable over the last 10 years:
10 years later and…
- We still have antidepressant ads that run on television regularly, prompting millions of people to quickly reach out to their doctor for that “magic bullet” that will immediately improve their mood state. Interestingly, the United States is one of only two countries in the world that allows pharmaceutical companies to market directly to consumers through television ads, prompting many critics to voice their concerns over how many people are literally lead to self-diagnose and treat (through drugs, of course).
- We are still looking for the “magic bullet.” Rather than actually making personal changes and learning effective coping skills, we still have too many people who want to make it all go away by swallowing a pill daily. While it would be nice to think a pill can fix your daily stress, this is more wishful thinking than reality.
- We are still ignoring side effects of these medications, or erroneously blaming the side effects on the disorder and not the medication. Interactions with other drugs, and withdrawal effects have also been noted by medical experts – but again when these things happen many patients simply blame their experiences as a result of their depression, and not the medication(s).
- We are still minimizing and/or ignoring the facts that show placebo treatments to be on par with the actual efficacy rates of various antidepressant medications. Most double-blind controlled studies, even today, still do not show statistically significant differences for these drugs versus placebo treatments.
- We still don’t want to face the fact that even with a medication to control symptoms, we still need to learn coping skills in order to be happy and successful in life. Pills, at best, may help control symptoms (even if it’s a placebo effect), but they don’t fix a broken marriage or make your bills magically go away.
- There is still far less interest in investing time and money in counseling when a perceived effective medicine is available. Counseling takes time, costs money, and is often viewed as a burden to one’s schedule or privacy — even though the long-term success rates from counseling are far better than the perceived temporary relief from an antidepressant.
- There are still far too many doctors that too easily comply with their patients when they request an antidepressant medication. Sadly, all a person has to do is watch a few commercials and memorize the symptoms — most doctors will quickly acquiesce to the patient’s request for a prescription if he/she later describes having those symptoms (and will do this more regularly than advise a patient to seek therapy).
- There is still a general resistance to the fact that “life is difficult” (to quote Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled). What this means is that there are going to plenty of ups and downs in life, and simply because you are tired or feel sad doesn’t necessarily mean you should race out and jump on an antidepressant medication!
- There are still too many unknowns about “chemical imbalances” (the terrific marketing used in scaring us into thinking we might actually have one of these, and therefore need medicine to fix it!). What is a chemically unbalanced brain? Better yet, whats a chemically balanced brain?? Aren’t we really in flux all the time – from the tranquil state we experience at rest to the chaos of getting the kids off to school in the morning? And isn’t this somewhat….normal?
- There is still too much elevated (false) hope in pills. In a best-case scenario, patients on antidepressants should be working in conjunction with a therapist and making concerted efforts to change irrational thinking and harmful behaviors. Unfortunately, the vast majority of patients today still only use their daily medication as their means for “improvement.”
Mental disorders are nothing to take lightly, and in no way am I suggesting that all medications are bad, per se. Unfortunately, with multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies with big investments in medications, direct television advertising, and a country full of people yearning for a “quick fix” to their problems, far too many people — and especially kids — are being treated by unproven drugs and at the expense of actually learning coping skills and strengthening their resiliency!
What we need for the future is more research on these medications, less direct television ads designed to incite fear and paranoia, and a greater emphasis on better self-care and management. We need to better understand and accept that life is full tough times, and it’s not unusual to feel the stress and depressed mood states that are associated with life difficulties and challenges. We also need to realize that when we are “down,” it doesn’t automatically mean we have a permanant type of depression that can only be “fixed” by some pills in a prescription bottle.
As a professional counselor of almost 20 years, I have personally witnessed a decline in our collective resiliency, and a new generation emerge that talks as casually about prescription drugs as the generations before them did of street drugs. Today’s teens are very aware of the various drugs being used to treat mental disorders, and they know how to find, steal, barter, and buy them.
Lets hope the next ten years are better than the last ten, and that fewer kids will turn to a perceived “quick fix” for their symptoms rather than more measured and prudent ways to cope with life stress.
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