Most People Use Antidepressants, not Therapy to Treat Depression

Merely Me Health Guide
  • There was a recent article in USA Today which cites some interesting statistics about the way Americans treat their depression.  I am sure that many of you will not be surprised by the results.


    The USA Today article presents the findings of a recent study led by Mark Olfson of Columbia Univeristy and the New York State Psychiatric Institute:

    • 10% of Americans (27 million people) were using antidepressants in 2005 compared with half that number in 1996.

    • Half of those people studied were taking antidepressants for other conditions including back pain, nerve pain, fatigue, and sleep difficulties.

    • Psychiatry has taken a hit in the recent decade. Around 32 % of antidepressant users used to seek treatment from a psychiatrist. This has decreased to less than 20%. It seems that 80% of patients are getting treatment from doctors other than psychiatrists.

    • Monies used for antidepressant advertising has increased from $32 million to $122 million. That is quite a leap.

    • The percentage of children aged 5-17 using antidepressants was 1.4% in 1995 and this increased to 2.6% in 2005. In another study researchers are saying that they see evidence of depression in children as young as three years of age.

    So we have all these numbers and statistics.  What can we make of it all? 

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    I am immediately reminded of a poem written by a friend of mine, Dr. C.E. Chaffin, entitled "The Glass Giraffe."  I had done an interview with Doctor Chaffin some months ago which you may read here.  Doctor Chaffin has Bipolar Disorder and writes poetry as one way to cope with having this potentially debilitating mood disorder.  These lines of his poem have always resonated with me:


    "Finally the antidepressants kicked in
    and I felt like myself.  When I left
    you gave me another card
    since therapy was "unfinished"
    and I might be back
    on your couch or another's.

    I gazed at your office figurines,
    crystal leopards and pewter trolls,
    porcelain ballerinas and kachina dolls,
    and imagined the souls of all your patients
    trapped inside them-those, who like me,
    sought relief through words
    when only medicines would do.

    I could have been the glass giraffe."



    Clearly some people who suffer from mood disorders are greatly helped by taking antidepressants.  There can be a very strong biological component to depression and science has discovered new ways to focus treatment on this biological aspect of mood disorder.


    Yet it is seldom that simple as taking a pill to "cure" depression.  Talk to anyone who suffers from depression and you will find that there are more causes for depression than there are treatments. Stress, childhood traumas, relationship problems and loss are but a few of the reasons one might lapse into a depressive episode.  There may also be behavioral reasons such as learned helplessness and patterned reactions to stressful events which can cause depression.  Cognitive issues also may play a part in depression as the way we think about things can directly affect our mood.


    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    Antidepressants may be limited in what they are able to do just because depression is such a complex disorder which multiple causes operating at the same time.  In my opinion medication is just one tool in our arsenal to combat depression.  And in some cases medication will prove to be ineffective for some sufferers of depression. 


    Beyond all the science and statistics there lies personal experience and subjective opinion.  Lately I feel like an anomaly to the rest of the world because I am a person who suffers from depression and I do not take an antidepressant for it.  Most of the folk I know are taking antidepressants.  I saw a general doctor recently who joked that she felt Prozac should be put in the water supply and the world would be a better place. 


    It is more accepted than ever to take medication for mood disorders and it is good that the stigma has decreased.  Yet I do question whether the use of antidepressants should be our first line of defense.  A pill is not going to make your relationships work out.  A pill is not going to give you a short cut through grief.  A pill is not going to teach you interpersonal skills so that you can make friends.  And I dare say that a pill is not going to make you happy.


    Happiness can take work.  Antidepressants may help but they aren't a panacea. I think we are missing out if we dismiss other methods and treatments such as therapy.  I also believe that we have become a society who is too quick to see pathology and dysfunction in ourselves and in other people.  These statistics make it seem that everyone is depressed, even three year old children.  I like to believe that we are healthier than these studies indicate.   


    I think it is great that we now have so many choices, especially pertaining to antidepressants, but I feel that we should be more discerning and a little cautious about using medication as our first and only choice of treatment for depression. 




    Now it is your turn.  I know that we have already been discussing this very topic here on My Depression Connection.  We all have our biases and opinions about this topic.  I just ask that everyone keep in mind that depression is a complex disorder and there are no easy answers.  What works for one person may not work for another.  Tell us your thoughts.  What do you conclude from such studies?  We are waiting to hear from you!





Published On: August 05, 2009