In a recent appearance on The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Sue Varma discussed overuse of antidepressants, also referred to as the “new drug moms are hooked on,” and “mommy’s little helper” because of their growing prevalence for use by mothers and women in general. During the show, one mother stated that taking antidepressants has made her a more functional person and a better mom, while another said that antidepressants took away the highs and lows of life and turned her into a zombie. Neither woman underwent a psychiatric evaluation or comprehensive health screening to check for underlying causes prior to being prescribed antidepressants by their primary care physicians (PCPs).
Antidepressants are currently the third most commonly prescribed drug in America, and women are two times more likely to take them than men. However, this trend is not limited to antidepressants. CBS News reported that women and the elderly are more likely to be prescribed medication during a doctor’s visit than any other population.
The concern is that 50% of all patients who are prescribed antidepressants do not have a mental illness and have never had an appropriate mental or physical health evaluation to determine the cause of their symptoms. Misdiagnosis and inadequate evaluation has contributed to a 400% increase in antidepressant prescriptions over the past 20 years. Even more alarming is that, out of 500 million prescriptions written each year, only 13% are prescribed by psychiatrists, leaving the majority (59%) to primary care doctors and other practitioners (18%).
Varma explained that the average mental health evaluation lasts at least 90 minutes with watchful monitoring should treatment ensue and that antidepressants should be considered a small portion in the toolkit for mental health. This same amount of care is not taken in the few minutes patients will have to discuss mental health during a visit to their primary care doctor. Very rarely do patients undergo the type of physical screening that would be needed to eliminate other possible causes of depression with their PCPs. Often, patients are experiencing symptoms of depression as a side effect of another health issue, and because doctors are hasty to prescribe antidepressants, the underlying cause may go unfound and continue to wreak havoc in the body. Hypothyroidism, chronic dehydration, copper toxicity, B12 deficiency and other nutritional deficiencies are just a few health issues that may cause symptoms of depression to manifest.
Do antidepressants provide a plausible solution?
Varma noted that antidepressants may be effective in some cases, but that exercise, social support, talk therapy and other methods are just as effective as, if not more than, medications in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Furthermore, discussions about coping skills and other treatment approaches should be considered because antidepressants often lose their effectiveness over time in what has been coined the “poop out effect” or tachyphylaxis. This effect alludes to the fact that antidepressants do not provide a true solution to the problem they are meant to solve.
According to homeopathy advocate and author Dana Ullman, “meta-analysis of antidepressant medications found only modest benefits over placebo treatment in published research, but when unpublished trial data is included, the benefit falls below accepted criteria for clinical significance. … These researchers did find benefits from the use of antidepressants in the treatment of severe depression, but because the majority of people taking antidepressants today do not have ‘severe depression,’ it is prudent for many people with depression to talk to their doctors about safer and more effective alternatives.” The first step is to undergo an adequate evaluation to determine if you are dealing with depression or another health issue.