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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Antidepressants may not be the right solution for everyone

Published: November 8, 2013
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

I have seen myself and others work through anxiety and mental health issues such as depression. Each person finds his or her own way to get past it, but for some, it takes years before they can even begin to deal with their issues effectively. A seemingly simple way to cope with the stress of everyday life is to take medication, either over-the-counter or prescription. The use of medication has saved countless lives and eased suffering for countless others. For some conditions it may bring little to no side effects, such as taking an aspirin when you have a headache or some cold medicine before allergy season. Stronger medications such as antidepressants, however, can have a larger impact. Antidepressants, particularly Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are designed to raise the level of serotonin in the brain, which they effectively do. It has not been proven, however, that depression is caused only by low serotonin levels. While serotonin does play a role in depression, it is not the only biological factor that is part of depression.

Potent antidepressants are given to millions of individuals, even though scientists are not exactly sure what the drugs do. Those with depression are often unable to communicate exactly how they feel. This puts them in a difficult situation as they must be able to discern what internal effects the medication is causing. A sufferer of depression may not be a good judge of small changes that occur while taking the medicine, as they are dealing with many outside difficulties. Adding to the problem is that diagnosing depression is nearly as difficult as treating it. Many people do not like to admit that they are depressed, and medication is doled out to those who do not need it or may receive a greater benefit through cognitive behavioral therapy or other methods.

The pharmaceutical companies’ desire to make money creates a culture in which the long-term effects of these medications are not discovered because of the significant financial burden to complete long-term studies as well as the potential need to take the medication off of the market. They are also being pushed on patients and mental health professionals alike. Doctors may want to help their patients, but it is difficult to help with something that all is not known about. Only the individuals themselves can know how they feel, and they often do not know if their feelings are a result of the depression or medication. Additionally, studies that find negative results about medications may not be as well publicized so as to avoid public and professional scrutiny.

The side effects brought upon by medication can sometimes exacerbate or worsen the problem. It is difficult to know how a medication is affecting you—you can really only know once you choose to end the medication. Responsibly withdrawing from a medicine has problems of its own. Even when weaning off an antidepressant gradually according to doctor’s orders, one can experience unpleasant symptoms comparable to how one feels when going cold turkey off an addictive medicine. The incidence of SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome can cause the medication to have an extended impact even after having completely stopped taking the medicine. This conundrum pigeonholes many who take antidepressants into staying on them even when there are severe and troubling side effects. In this state it can be nearly impossible to get better when there are so many other psychological, emotional and physical things going on that are caused by the medication. In this sense, medication might be preventing someone from getting better.

All of these issues together can create an unsafe environment in which powerful medications are given to patients who do not need them, and even when their symptoms warrant such intervention the negative effects that the medication causes can override any possible positive effects. Antidepressants can affect the most basic functions of our lives such as eating and sleeping. These interferences can prevent patients from getting better as they can put them in a negative disposition. A depressed patient won’t be able to get better through therapeutic intervention if the medication that they are taking tires them all of the time. Medication can be very helpful, but it should be considered with care and caution. Other methods should be looked into first. It is best for patients to deal with issues when they are as even-keeled as possible and not affected by outside influences.