Doctors dole out antidepressants far too easily. To far too many people. And for far too long. Plus, few antidepressants, if any, truly benefit their patients.
I’ve hounded this point many times in my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. And now, it seems I’m not the only doctor who is unafraid to speak the truth about these drugs. In last month’s British Medical Journal, Des Spence, M.D., a general practitioner from Glasgow argued that antidepressants are far too overprescribed. He cites the Cochrane review that found only about one in seven depressed patients benefit from antidepressant drugs.
The newer antidepressant drugs like Zoloft and Wellbutrin are SSRIs. This stands for “synaptic serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.” They artificially raise levels of serotonin in the brain by preventing their normal re-uptake into neurons or nerve cells. This artificially floods the brain with serotonin. Some argue this extra serotonin helps improve symptoms of depression.
But is that really true?
Through my work in forensic medicine, I see case after case of chronically depressed patients. They were “successfully” treated with SSRIs. But then they promptly committed suicide. The treatment was a success, but the patient died.
Here’s part of the problem…
SSRIs treat only a symptom of depression. They do nothing about the underlying causes.
When people are depressed, they turn inward. They close themselves off. And they lack energy to carry out actions. Instead, they just endlessly think thoughts, many of them negative. But they take no action.
Now give that person Prozac. You haven’t changed anything about the cause of the depression. But suddenly they have energy. Including the energy to carry out their suicidal thoughts. And that they do.
So, how do you start down this troubled road?
It begins with the very definition of clinical depression.
Let’s look at both the old and the controversial, new editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Both editions define clinical depression as two weeks of “low mood.”
It doesn’t take a doctorate to see that this definition is far too loose. Indeed, this very flawed definition of the disease may be the root of the problem. It led to the widespread “medicalization” of what should be just normal chapters in human life!
Is it any surprise that antidepressant prescriptions increased by almost 10 percent in 2011? This represents the largest increase in prescription medicines across the board! And this number is on track to continue to grow in coming decades.
And, some parties are in a good mood indeed about the overuse of antidepressants. In fact, three-quarters of those who write the definitions of “low mood” used in the psychiatric manual have links to drug companies!
Mental illness may be the perfect condition for the drug industry. And drug makers couldn’t be happier with the growing numbers diagnosed with depression.
“Low mood” may be incurable–not surprising, considering the treatment with SSRIs. It’s common–not surprising, given the definition. It’s long-term–but why, if the treatment is in fact any good? And it involves multiple medications. Yes–I’d say it’s the perfect disease for the drug industry!
Modern psychiatry’s relationship with the drug industry has created a therapeutic drug mindset to treat mental illness. Now psychiatrists can simply write a prescription, just like…“real doctors!”
Have we completely abandoned the more time-intensive approaches involving psychoanalysis, talk therapies, and even spiritual dimensions?
I hope not.
Sometimes a “low mood” is an accurate and appropriate response to reality. You cannot simply medicate it away.
Studies show that mildly depressed people can more accurately assess circumstances. Plus, they’re more effective at dealing with them. And they’re better at predicting real outcomes.
Perhaps our “low mood” is our body’s natural response to perceiving “all is not well.” Perhaps it is part of the body’s “fight-or-flight” defense system. But we lack the energy to fight. So we “stand down…conserve…and withdraw.” All the while, we stay “on alert.”
Perhaps these drugs take away some human wisdom that we all need to feel sometimes.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence do not support the use of antidepressants for mild depression. Or necessarily for moderate depression. Instead, it favors psychological talk-based therapies. And for mild to moderate depression, the use of herbal remedies such as St. John’s can be effective.
Now, I’m not saying that depression isn’t a real problem. It is debilitating for many millions of Americans. But I don’t recommend trying to artificially manipulate your serotonin levels as a treatment for any disease.
There are several treatments you can try to help your body heal naturally and restore its own proper levels of serotonin, acetylcholine and other neurochemicals. You can learn much more about depression and naturally restoring these levels in my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not already a newsletter subscriber, get started today.
1. BMJ 2013;346:f190