Most people in Utah know that this state has one of the highest, if not the highest, rate of antidepressant usage in both the United States and in the world. This has been going on for awhile too, people have been taking high levels of anti-depressants for quite some time now and I think that it’s important to ask a couple of important questions. The first question is, are they working? The second question is whether or not antidepressants are going to be helpful for you? Before I dive into this, I need to provide a disclaimer, I’m not a doctor and if you’re on an antidepressant, please talk to your doctor first if you want to stop taking it and please don’t stop taking it cold turkey. Even though I’m going to contend that they are not that effective, not all cases are the same and it’s not my place to make recommendations for people I don’t know. So please talk to your doctor before making any desired medication changes.
I have worked with many people, young, old and in between that take antidepressants. I often ask them the same question. Is it working? Does it help? The vast majority of people tell me that they either don’t see any significant benefit from taking it or if they do get any benefit, it’s barely noticeable. It’s actually quite rare for people to tell me that their antidepressant really helps them and even though it’s fairly common for people to report that they feel different or strange, they rarely tell me that their antidepressant actually helps them feel better. I think it’s extremely important to look at other factors in this equation. Along with high rates of antidepressant use, Utah also sports some of the highest levels of addiction and suicide. Wait, what? That doesn’t compute. How does the state with the highest rate of antidepressant use also have one of the highest, if not the highest, rates of suicide? Shouldn’t the state with the highest usage of antidepressants be the state with one of the lowest rates of suicide? It’s hard to conclude anything except that either a) antidepressants don’t work or b) antidepressants are actually making things worse. The suicide rate is alarmingly high, especially among teens. Sometimes I feel astounded that we aren’t stopping the presses to figure this problem out. So to answer the first question, no, I don’t believe that antidepressants work, at least not for the majority of people that take them. Some people will argue with me and tell me that their medication really does help them and that is fine, I’m not saying that nobody benefits from them but the facts seem to speak for themselves.
So onto question number two, should you take an antidepressant if you feel like you can’t break out of your depression? First I want to talk a little bit about depression, what it is and why we experience it. I’ve noticed that some people use the term depression as an almost blanket term to describe any feeling or state of emotion that isn’t happy or positive and for some reason, our society and our culture has adopted the idea that we’re supposed to be happy all the time and that it’s not okay to feel down, blue, sadness or depression even when this is a very natural and appropriate response to whatever life circumstances are currently happening. Too many people are telling themselves that they are supposed to feel happy and good even when their life is challenging and lacks reasons to feel happy and good. Depression isn’t the result of perfect life circumstances coupled with a broken chemical imbalance in the brain. Depression is the result of how you live and how you think. I often disagree that we should take medication in attempt to make these emotions go away when perhaps they are trying to tell us something important about making needed to changes. When we experience physical pain, it’s our body telling us that something is wrong and it needs help. I believe that emotions are the same way, depression can often be a signal or a guide post telling us that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed.
A lot of people think of depression and describe it as sadness. Sadness can lead to depression but they are not the same thing. I can usually spot depression when people are stuck and they have little motivation to take steps to change. I believe that depression is also often coupled with hopelessness and powerlessness which fosters the perception that we can’t make changes or that nothing will change and when we feel that way for a long period of time, we can think about extreme things like suicide. So maybe ask yourself and consider, do you have a good reason to feel sad, depressed or powerless? But when people feel like there’s nothing they can do about this, they often come to the conclusion that antidepressants can help which I don’t have a problem with except that they just don’t seem to be working.
But I get it, people often decide to take them because at least they’re doing something when things feel hopeless. I took depression medication when I was younger, when I was depressed. But I also went to therapy. Therapy really helped me and I believe that good therapy can help most people that struggle in life. Unfortunately, a lot of people have had bad therapy experiences and they let it determine their future therapy experiences. There are bad doctors, bad mechanics and bad therapists and it can be easy to let one bad experience from the past ruin our outlook for the future. So while I don’t think it really hurts to try an antidepressant, I honestly don’t think that they have a high level of effectiveness. Keep in mind too, if you’re thinking about trying them, that they can take up to 3 or 4 weeks before you know whether or not it’s really working. It’s frustrating too that this type of medication has this kind of time table. You can take it for a month, get no benefit and if you decide to try another one, you have to start the process all over again.
So what is, ‘good therapy?’ I believe that good therapy needs to have a few key elements to it. The first is a connection to the therapist, to at least feel cared about by them or that you like them. Therapy is a very personal thing and it helps to actually like your therapist. I also believe that good therapy gives you tools and skills. When you leave, you should have a plan or any idea of what you should do differently. There are a lot of easy and effective things that people can do to manage their mood. What people don’t understand or realize is that they can learn to choose how they feel by doing some important things. Spending more time with good friends, exercising more or taking up a new hobby, for example can do wonders for depression but the value that a good therapist will hopefully bring is some motivation and accountability to get up and do some of this stuff while also learning good mental health practices. In case I haven’t made it clear, I truly believe that there are much more effective ways to fight and beat depression than through the use of antidepressant medication.
* Thanks for taking time to read this article, be sure to check out my website for more articles on various mental health issues. If you’re struggling and need help, I hope you will give me the opportunity to provide some help. The first 20 minute phone consultation is always free.