by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Grace was in her 40’s when she first came to see me. She was juggling a career and a family, caring for her aging father, and helping her husband start his own business. Finances at home were tight since he’d quit his job, putting a strain on their marriage. She was feeling low and tired all the time, so she went to her doctor for help. She left the office with a prescription for an antidepressant. Four days later, she came to the clinic with her unfilled prescription in hand to ask me, “Do I really need this?”
It’s hard to believe antidepressant prescriptions have more than quadrupled in the past couple of decades, with twice as many women as men — by some estimates over 1 in 10 women in America — now taking one. Advertisements for Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Cymbalta, Effexor, and others bombard us everywhere we turn — there’s even a designer antidepressant for menopause symptoms called Pristiq, and another one for PMS symptoms called Serafem. But advertising doesn’t portray the full picture about these prescription drugs, just images of happy people relaxing in the sun. We all want that, right? So why not fill the prescription when your doctor offers it?
While antidepressants can help some women immensely, especially those with major depression, the sad truth is that they’re just not very effective for a lot of people. And they certainly aren’t free of side effects. Like many women I see, Grace was reluctant to take a prescription drug, and wanted to know if she had any alternatives. I always tell my patients that there are many ways to navigate these difficult periods in life, and numerous options that can help improve mood and outlook naturally. It may take some time to figure out which path is right for you, but I promise, you can feel better. And the fact is, antidepressants will still be there, should you decide you need them.
Let’s take a closer look at antidepressants and some natural alternatives.
How depressed are you?
Depression involves a range of normal negative emotions. But “clinical depression” differs significantly from minor situational depression or mood disorders, even though the symptoms can be similar or the same. The difference is that in mild depression, symptoms ebb and flow, and eventually do lift, while in major depression they tend to spiral downward toward a more entrenched mental health crisis. Most forms of depression are characterized by:
- Overwhelming feelings of grief, anxiety, guilt, or despair
- A sense of numbness or hollowness
- A loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
- Dullness, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Overeating, weight gain, loss of appetite, or weight loss
If you’ve noticed symptoms consistently for over a month, we urge you to see a medical professional, preferably a trained psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. Suicidal thoughts or attempts and obsessing about death are serious warning signs that need to be addressed immediately.
The depressing truth about antidepressants
Most healthcare practitioners have an average of seven minutes to spend with each patient. As you can understand, seven minutes isn’t nearly enough time to talk about a person’s emotional state. We can’t blame conventional doctors for how over-reliant on antidepressants our society has become — our medical system is broken, and antidepressants are a Band-Aid attempt to alleviate miserable symptoms. But in the end, any emotional concerns, including depression, anxiety or mood changes deserve more attention than seven minutes, and I encourage you to give yourself that attention.
There’s good reason to take some time with this decision. For one, antidepressants can cause several surprising side effects, such as restlessness, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, increased sweating, and more (refer to the following list). What’s more, there’s been ongoing debate for years about whether they are even effective for people with mild to moderate depression. A 2010 meta-analysis revealed minimal or nonexistent benefits as compared to placebo for mildly to moderately depressed people, although people suffering from severe depression showed more substantial benefit.