I’m often asked by friends, family and media why so many people are taking medications for stress, anxiety and depression. “Are people really that sick?” they wonder. “Are people more depressed now than they were a decade ago?” “Is life tougher?” The answer: No. People are not sicker or more depressed, and life isn’t tougher. Truth be told, our society and culture are changing and we’re bearing witness to an unhealthy phenomenon: the over-prescribing and misuse of medications. This trend is driven by clever pharmaceutical company advertising, incompetent practitioners and a desire for a quick, albeit temporary, fix. Patients are too quick to ask for medications, and doctors are too quick to prescribe them.
Every week I see new patients who are loaded up on meds thanks to their previous provider prescribing for the equivalent of a psychological sniffle. Next time you’re offered mind-altering drugs as if they‘re Halloween candy, here’s what to ask your doctor: If you didn’t have a prescription pad, how would you treat the problem? What would happen if I didn’t take medication?
Antidepressants should be used for major depression with severe and persistent symptoms, not when one is simply stressed or feeling down. There are specific symptoms that need to be present to properly diagnose major depression. If this is accurately done, then medication should be a consideration for a treatment option. However, know that they are not a panacea and not nearly as effective as medication combined with psychotherapy.
Be a good consumer and remain aware of medication’s side effects, which can sometimes be as bad as or worse than the symptoms being treated. For example, a diminished sex drive and weight gain are common side effects to antidepressants. Be open to alternative treatment options and know that medications are not the be-all, end-all.
Life can be really tough. Know, however, that long before medications, people found ways to cope. Medication provides a temporary relief, lasting only as long as you continue to take it, and it doesn’t provide insight or teach you skills or new ways to deal. By contrast, a good therapist will teach you how to change your thinking, balance work, life and relationships, and to be fearless rather than fearful. To learn more ways to be fearless and not rely so heavily on medications, check out my book, “BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.
– Jonathan Alpert is a licensed psychotherapist. His book, “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” is available now. E-mail him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
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