Have antidepressants become the American burka? We might claim that there is nothing like that in the United States of America, but we would be wrong. While we do not see women wearing garments that cloak their ability to be recognized and voice their opinions in public, more subtly we have created a chemical burka in this country which can be just as oppressive to women.
Instead of U.S. doctors first referring their troubled women patients for talk therapy so they can be given a safe haven to express, even vent, their fears and pain; too many U.S. women are reflexively given antidepressant drugs that numb the very feelings that let her know if her life, and her society, are on or off track.
Here are some facts that should send up a big red flag about the over prescribing of these medications: Women make up 50 percent of the U.S. population yet account for 79 percent of the prescriptions for antidepressant drugs. One out of three doctor’s visits by women involves an antidepressant prescription. Antidepressant use during pregnancy has increased from 5.7 percent in 1999 to 13.4 percent in 2003. Currently there is a class action suit against the makers of the antidepressant Paxil alleging that the drug taken during pregnancy causes heart valve birth defects. The current meta-studies indicate that anti-depressant drugs don’t work for the vast majority of people they are prescribed for and cause a host of unpleasant side-effects including loss of sex drive and weight gain. Because these drugs mostly do not get to the root of the problem, doctors keep increasing dosages and adding drugs onto the first prescribed medication creating a numbing chemical burka. This chemical burka is robbing our country of the women’s voice of sanity that it desperately needs.
Psychiatrists prescribe only 1/3 of all antidepressant medications, which means that 2/3 of the people writing prescriptions of antidepressant medication are other types of practitioners not specifically trained to evaluate for depression. In 15 minutes or less, how do you distinguish between women who are in need of support due to the very real overwhelms of motherhood, women who are exhausted, or women whose hormones are out of balance or need nutritional replenishment?
There is the issue of physiological exhaustion to consider: No other process in the body drains more vital nutrients than that of pregnancy and childbirth. A new mother who has just been through hard labor, lost blood, spent only 48 hours in the hospital and now goes home with her new infant to a husband who works and two toddlers can be most susceptible to exhaustion. The long term nutrient depletion from donating all the nutrients to form her baby’s body can mimic the symptoms of depression and continue for decades if not diagnosed and treated correctly.
The question becomes how many mothers are being medicated for exhaustion and nutrient depletion as though it were depression? How is the general practitioner in a short office visit distinguishing between the two? And what offerings might either psychiatry or the general practitioner put forth instead of antidepressants? Is medicine examining the potential of meditation, hormone testing, nutritional therapy, psychotherapy, diet and exercise as alternatives to antidepressants?
And then there is the question of our own expectations about life. Do we expect that there should not be difficult or stressful times? Do we expect that as the commercial tells us: “Life hurts and you shouldn’t have to?” Are women really so unable to cope with the struggles of life that they need to be drugged? Are we buying into pharmaceutical company profiteering in which aggressive advertising campaigns directed to doctors and patients trump real science?
Women need to start questioning the easy dispensing of these drugs. Moreover we need to start questioning our ability to cope. Life has never been fair. Things change and create anxiety. We all experience loss and grief. No one escapes the harsh hand that life can deal. To be human is to have both joy and pain…often simultaneously.
We need to fiercely question the medical status quo about antidepressant medication. Could it possibly be that the reason some depression is “treatment resistant” is because we are treating something that isn’t depression in the first place? Unless one is suicidal or homicidal, trying natural therapies first is paramount. If your doctor cannot or will not recommend these alternatives, then consider finding a new doctor. A footnote: there is a time and place for such medication. But just like the overuse of antibiotics in the 80′s and 90′s which created super bugs that would no longer respond, antidepressant medication has become over used and abused; and for many new mothers and many women, antidepressant drugs have become a chemical burka.