Thursday, October 20, 2011

Have we become a nation of hypochondriacs?

I was both alarmed and somewhat disgusted to read this report in USA Today.

Use of antidepressant drugs has soared nearly 400% since 1988, making the medication the most frequently used by people ages 18-44, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

Eleven percent of Americans ages 12 years and older took antidepressants during the 2005-08 study period, the authors write. They add that though the majority of antidepressants were taken to treat depression, the drugs also can be used for anxiety disorders and other conditions.

The data are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which included information from 12,637 participants about prescription-drug use, antidepressant use, length of use, severity of depressive symptoms and contact with a health professional.

. . .

In fact, less than one-third of Americans taking one antidepressant and less than one-half of those taking multiple antidepressants have seen a mental-health professional in the past year, the report shows.

There's more at the link.

The report is alarming because of the dependence on pills of so many people, to cope with what are, after all, the normal challenges of everyday life. It's disgusting because so many believe they need pills for that! What happened to plain ordinary common sense, the courage to face life and deal with it, and the can-do spirit? Do you think our grandparents and parents could have won World War II with such an attitude? Hit the beaches at Normandy or Iwo Jima while pumped full of antidepressants? I don't think so . . . and the near-certainty of violent death or crippling, agonizing injury would have given them a lot more reason to be depressed than worrying about paying a bill or two!

It's a sad commentary on our society - and on our medical professionals - that the mass use of antidepressants is considered 'normal'. It's anything but!



Anonymous said...

Peter, with all due respect, that comment makes it clear that you have never suffered from depression. Battling depression is not about can-do spirit, it's about not deciding to end it all today.

Imagine your worst day, where you question everything that you have ever done in your life, and you feel your most worthless and spent and utterly exhausted and broken. Now imagine that EVERY DAY is like that. And that you have never felt anything different, and so you don't know that everyone doesn't feel that way.

I never knew what it felt like to feel normal until I started taking an anti-depressant. Not high, not dopey, just normal. Telling someone with depression to buck up, or to get over it, is like telling a blind man to knock it off and just start seeing already. And about as effective.

I don't know if your thesis is correct, and that anti-depressants are over prescribed. But I do know that depression is real, and that those of us who suffer from it can't function well without the medication.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last comment, and want to add that there is nothing more frustrating than someone telling you it's "all in your head" and to "snap out of it". I had depression for years caused by tested, hormonal imbalances. There was very honestly something not functioning properly in my body, proved by blood tests, it just wasn't something you could see on the surface. I did not know what was wrong with me, I just knew something was, and attempted suicide twice. antidepressants were the treatment of choice because at the time (high school age) more permanent fixes or direct measures to treat what was causing the problem were not recommended- there was the risk with continued growth that it would cause longer term problems. I am extremely fortunate that I was able to mostly grow out of it, but without the antidepressants that allowed me to feel normal again, not in constant despair, I'm not sure I would be here today, and certainly not as successfully as I have been.

I'm not saying all people need to be medicated- but depression is a real problem for some people, requiring treatment.

DOuglas2 said...

And even more people use prescription vision correction...

Severe depression is very real and very treatable with antidepressant medications. My understanding is that it has a physiological cause and can often be corrected or controlled.

OTOH, in three quarters of cases a placebo is as effective as the antidepressant, so that suggests to me that we are using such drugs much more than is needed.

I also suspect that what we see is a shift away from self-medication using booze and/or recreational chemicals and towards the more socially acceptable (and covered by insurance) medical diagnoses.

Jess said...

The problem with antidepressants is they can be prescribed by any doctor, which may mean a disorder is being partially treated, or the medication may be unecessary.

A family doctor may be left with few choices when dealing with a patient's emotional disorder. The patient has a complaint, their insurance has limited psychiatric benefits and they know failing to do anything is not a good option. They prescribe an antidepressant to help the patient, but may only be partially completing the psychiatric treatment. Therapy may be needed and this is best decided by a psychiatrist, which the patient may never see.

Antidepressants can take up to six weeks to have any real effect, if at all. If it doesn't work it may require a change in dosage, or a different medication. Even then, if the patient is bipolar, the medication may have the opposite effect and increase the symptoms. When you add the side effects that include decreased libido, antidepressants can present problems that only aggravate the disorder of the patient.

Depression doesn't just affect the patient, the entire family suffers while dealing with a depressed family member. They see the destruction the disorder can cause. The person they love may have reached the point they've quit functioning and spend their days "hiding" in one room of the house. Their efforts to help are ignored, or cause angry reactions. Meanwhile, if the depressed family member is the breadwinner, the financial security is jeopardized due to the typical poor work performance of a person with depression.

Oday, I've rambled enough. I agree that there is a problem with the increased use of antidepressants. I think the solution is a realistic effort by our society to remove the stigma of mental disorders. I have no idea how this can be accomplished, except by people becoming educated about the common disorders and treatment strategies.

Peter said...

Thanks to all who've commented so far. I fully agree that for genuine cases of clinical depression (which I have, indeed, encountered), antidepressants are both necessary and appropriate. It wasn't my intention to insinuate that there aren't those who really need them. I apologize if I gave that impression.

However, I absolutely do not agree that true depression exists in the numbers of people who are prescribed antidepressants by their doctors. I'm sure that at least three out of four cases - perhaps more - aren't clinically depressed, or, if they are, are suffering from a short-term depression brought on by the circumstances of their lives. (I've had the latter myself on two occasions.) For such individuals, either a short-term course of antidepressants, or a change of lifestyle or activities or whatever, are much more appropriate than the long-term use of pills to enable them to cope.

I've worked with long-term depressive patients; also with those who are bipolar, or schizophrenic, or who suffer from other ailments. (There are many of them in the US prison system, where I worked as a chaplain.) I have the greatest possible sympathy for them. However, I don't believe their ailments are present in US society in anything like sufficient quantity to justify the dispensing of antidepressants as if they were candy!

Anonymous said...

And of course a drugged population is SO much more easily controlled. And children over 12: give me a break; it's like the let's give all those "twitchy" young boys ritelin(sp) to calm them down crowd.

Anonymous said...

Well. I was going to provide a somewhat flippant remark about the youth of the target group , and needing to wait until they're over sixty to see real things to be depressed about. But in deference to the sincere first few comments about real depression, snark is not appropriate. But I take your underlying point, Peter, and I agree insofar as it applies to hypochondriacs.


trailbee said...

If your target group is ONLY 18-44, I would say you might be correct in taking your stance. However. Please see what is being sold to this group, specifically on TV, and then this is understandable. People, especially women, are made up to look like supermodels, perfect in the moment. Men are are superstuds and sophisticated. That is how the media has also chosen to use its ad dollars. Donna Reed is gone. The wholesome look and expectations trampled in the dust for the rush to the bank.
Both parents usually work, there is little personal core value being taught anywhere. The underpinnings are all air. No wonder humans are just a little upset when they think they don't measure up to what they see, and what is expected of them in the job market. They are truly the targeted group for most advertisers. This is the ultimate form of peer pressure!
I'm a senior. Been there, done that, and fully understand. My TV? It's off because I do not believe a word or a picture I'm being fed. It took me this long grow some huevos and believe in myself. For many of us, it is a hell of a long road.
Thank you for the post, and being willing to listen to us, Peter.