A recent study reported that 1 in 5 American adults takes at least one psychiatric drug to treat depression and/or anxiety, a 22 percent increase since 2001. Do you get what this means? This means that in an office of 100 people, 20 of them – enough to form an entire department – will be on medication.
In the average family of 2 parents and 2 1/2 kids, one of them will eventually take psychiatric drugs. At your next high school reunion of 1,000 graduates, 200 of them will be on mind-altering drugs.
Isn’t that shocking?
And yet, this doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Back when I was seeing 40 patients a day in my busy managed care medical practice, I was inundated with patients whose “chief complaints” (as we call it in medical lingo) were often not depression or anxiety, but other vague symptoms like this.
The Chief Complaint
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido
- Vague physical symptoms like muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea, back pain, abdominal pain
When I questioned them, these patients reported that they felt listless, joyless, and low in energy. In other words, they had lost their mojo. (I call it the “mojo-sapping epidemic” in my next book Mind Over Medicine.)
It’s Not Just Neurotransmitters
Once upon a time, doctors recognized depression and anxiety as reactions to emotional events and life influences. When you lost your mother or got fired from your job or got diagnosed with cancer, it was considered normal to feel sad or anxious for a while. The root cause of your diagnosis was clear to everyone and the prescription was usually just time, not drugs. After all, time heals all wounds.
Then, in the wake of the increasing tendency to blame every disease on biochemical or genetic factors, these psychological states became attributed to neurotransmitters. Not enough serotonin. Too little GABA. The rush to “fix” these neurotransmitter imbalances with medication ensued.
But somewhere in the chemicalization of depression and anxiety, we forgot that, most of the time, these conditions arise because someone’s life is out of balance. It’s not just purely biochemical.