Have Antidepressant Drugs Become the American Burka?

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.


Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Bonny Brainwave

I can't begin to tell you how relieved I felt when I read this article. Having been stuck in the mental health system for years lead me to reach the same conclusions as the these writers, but why would my opinion ever matter since I'm the crazy one? I'm one of several mental health patients who had a voice that was always silenced. I only wish something like this were published in the New York times or a more influential news source.

Dean R.
Dean Raffelock7 years ago

It sounds like you agree with the main points of the article. You are right about the passion and wrong about the judgement.I do not judge people who take antidepressant drugs.If they truly work great. Recent large metastudies show that these drugs are massively over-prescribed and don't work at all for many millions. Plus many suffer from very disturbing side effects and have extreme difficultly weaning off them.
What we need more of from doctors and mental health providers is(1)Make sure that your clients have had appropriate medical tests-thyroid gland,liver,adrenal cortex and medulla,blood sugar,food allergies, mitochondrial function.(2)Help them work with their mind-body connection with positive attitudinal healing techiniques.(3)Encourage them to eat a nutrient dense diet.(4)Encourage them to get daily exercise.(5)Help them to learn stress reducing techniques like deep belly breathing and meditation.(6)Encourage them to consult with a qualified nutrition doctor who can assess their neurotransmitters and hormones and first try dietary supplements like 5-HTP,P-5-P,PharmaGABA, L-tyrosine, D-phenylalanine etc?(7)Teach them sleep hygiene.(8)Encourage them to hold their life as a spiritual journey designed to challenge them into greater growth and if they are unhappy they may need to make some difficult life choices and changes. These have better science behind them than SSRIs. Some need them, but only a small fraction of those given them.

Dr. Dean Raffelock

Carolyn M.
Carolyn M7 years ago

Dr. Raffelock, as a mental health provider and consumer, I also take offense to your article. Indeed, psychiatric medications are over-prescribed and generally provided by GPs, rather than psychiatrists. Other physical ailments should be ruled out first, which is why a prudent psychologist would request a client to obtain a physical exam at the beginning of treatment.

What offends me, Dr. Raffelock, is not the bottom line message of your article, but the tone in which it is written. It comes across to me as passionate to the point of being rabid, as well as somewhat paranoid and heavily judgmental. I believe your good intentions are overshadowed by this tone and tend to alienate individuals who are benefiting from (or simply taking) antidepressant medication.

Dean R.
Dean Raffelock7 years ago

Thank you all for your comments. The bottom line is that (1)the right dietary supplements (5-HTP, L-tryptophan, Pharma GABA, fish oils, etc.), (2) exercise, (3)slow,deep belly breathing/meditation,(4) working with one's attitude,(5)eating healthy food and avoiding junk foods, (6) believing that the universe (GOD) is friendly and having good friends,(7) and getting consistant good night's sleep are the real antidotes for depression and anxiety for the vast majority of people. The research and latest meta-studies show this to be true. A small percentatge of people do need antidepressant drugs. Those who are taking antidepressants still would benefit from the lifestyle changes mentioned above and the research supports.

DR. Dean Raffelock

Bev M.
Bev M7 years ago

charmaine c. yea... that was the one downside, I gained weight when I was first on anti-d's and still haven't lost it....but I'd rather be chubby than skinny and miserable.

Bev M.
Bev M7 years ago

No question that antidepressants are over prescribed and can be misused. But my experience has been nothing but positive. Far from being a chemical burka, I found when I started taking them several years ago that I'm actually more outgoing and able to stand up for myself when I need to MUCH better than before.
I used to have a lot of anger that I would just let fester, I was afraid of confrontation...I still get angry and stressed...meds aren't magic...but now I can face whatever needs facing, deal with it and move on.

I'm not in any chemical fog. I feel more like ME than I did for years.

charmaine c.
Charmaine C7 years ago

I'm impressed that someone is actually answering people's questions in the blog as it goes along. It's so helpful. I have been on anti deps for 15 years. Picked up a boatload of weight and have been struggling for years to lose it. After reading this article, I suspect that my 'depression' may well be something else. Trying to get GP's to respond is a different matter. Mine have always taken the easy road, mostly because they find me dificult to deal with. I ask questions and want answers. What I do get is "are you some sort of medical expert??" Why do GP's seem to object to people doing their own research I wonder?

Dean R.
Dean Raffelock7 years ago

While some of you receive benefit from your antidepressant drugs, that doesn't change the facts that these drugs are over-prescribed and do not work for the vast majority of people who receive prescriptions for them. Meta-studies show that these drugs only work for severe cases. The January 2010 edition of JAMA cites a metastudy called
Antidepressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity which clearly documents that antidepressant drugs only work for very severe cases. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Volume 11, Number 3, 2009 Published another metastudy called
Meta-Analysis of Antidepressant
Augmentation: Piling on in the Absence
of Evidence by
Craig A. Yury, PhD
Jane E. Fisher, PhD
David O. Antonuccio, PhD
Marcia Valenstein, MD
Jeremy Matuszak, MD
which also documents that these drugs are over-prescribed.

The point of our article is to alert people who do NOT have severe depression that most likely these drugs will not work for you. Be cautious about a doctor who, in a short office visit, and in the absence of a thorough medical workup to rule out other possible causes of depression,quickly prescribes an antidepressant drug without finding our what is going on in your life, recommending talk therapy, referring you to a clinical nutritionist, and recommending exercise and meditation. This drugs are very hard to quit, even when they are not working. The fact that women are more targeted than men is undisputable.

Dana F.
Dana F7 years ago

As a woman on both Prozac and Wellbutrin, I take great offense to this article. Talk therapy helped me to move on from the traumas of my past, but I was still "stuck" in a vicious cycle of self-hatred, self-loathing, and utter despair, and I felt GUILTY for it, because I knew I had NO reason to feel those feelings, but I had no idea WHY I felt those feelings, and no amount of talk therapy could help me get through the daily horror of just getting out of bed. I even had thoughts of taking my own life (all this when I was only 23 years old). Antidepressants saved my life and most certainly have not rendered me incapable of "voicing my opinion." If anything, I have come out of that oppressive shell I was in and I am more outgoing and successful than ever. I am exactly who I was meant to be.