Questions You Should Ask Yourself about Psychiatric Drugs:
Psychiatry is in fashion these days. Increasingly people are choosing to “pop a pill” to rid themselves of their depression or their anxiety. Statistics show that every 10th adult in the United States is currently taking an anti-depressant as part of their daily routine.
Oftentimes, however, people are not that well informed about what this kind of psychiatric treatment really means for their long-term health.
The story we are being told in advertisements is that depression and anxiety are “disorders” with some supposed biological basis, and that anti-depressants are to depression, what antibiotics are to an infection.
Although I am not against medication for psychological issues by default, and do believe there are cases when medication should be considered, all too often in my work as a psychologist, I encounter people who have suffered terrible faiths by going down this path.
Before considering medication for your anxiety or depression, or for any other psychological issue, here are three questions I would ask myself…
Can We Trust Psychiatric Research?
Although research generally shows some efficacy for psychiatric medication for a variety of concerns, including anxiety or depression, there are many caveats that should weigh heavily in people’s decision to treat their anxiety or depression with medication.
The profession of psychiatry in the US has very unclear boundaries in relation to the interests of pharmaceutical companies.
The consequence of this is that what appears like objective science frequently crosses the boundary into rhetoric and marketing. Pharmaceutical money pervades some, if not much of psychiatric research. Many studies that show the effectiveness of a particular drug is bought and paid for with pharmaceutical money. The flip-side of this is that if no benefits are found then we simply won’t hear of the study. This slant toward publishing only results that confirm the interests of those who finance the studies has undermined my own faith in much of psychiatric research.
For more information about the ties between psychiatry and Big Pharma, read Daniel Carlat’s book Unhinged, which will give you a good overview of some of the unclear ties between truth and money in the field of psychiatry.
Do We Know the Long-Term Risks?
In addition, it is concerning that we don’t quite know what the long term effects are of taking psychiatric medication.
In some cases, the long-term effects are quite clear. It is well known that some anti-psychotic drugs cause diabetes, weight gain, and sometimes permanent brain damage that can result in weird tongue movements.
Why should this be of concern to people with depression and anxiety? Because advertisements are currently telling people to ask their doctor to add the anti-psychotic Abilify to treat their treatment-resistant depression.
Other sources indicate that the long-term use of many of the most common psychiatric medications, such as anti-depressants and anxiolytics (anti-anxiety agents like Xanax), change the person’s brain chemistry permanently and make you more susceptible to relapse, once you stop taking them. In other words, unless you want to take them for life, you may be better off not taking them at all.
Is it Philosophically Sound?
Finally, I think we have to question if it is philosophically sound to treat anxiety and depression as if they were simply ailments to be cured, rather than symptoms or signs of something that is not right in our lives. No matter if medication can indeed make us more numb to our pain, or help alleviate our anxiety, they are no substitute for introspection into our patterns of behaving.
It is human to struggle emotionally and to be caught in difficult dilemmas. We all feel down-trodden and incapable at times. We all have to struggle to create close ties with others, to risk love, to endure loss, and to face rejection. We all have childhood wounds and special sensitivities. Life is not easy, but we learn from it, and we develop strengths and wisdom through the insights taught to us by our emotional pain and struggles. There is no medication for life itself.
Should I Take Medication for My Depression or Anxiety?
Since we know psychotherapy is effective for helping people not just cope with their depression and anxiety, but make sense of it, and use it as a growth opportunity, why would anyone as a first choice choose to gamble with medication?
Psychiatric medication may sometimes be the best or the only option, but it should never be the first choice. I respect each client’s right to make their own free choice, but given the ambiguous picture of benefits and risks of taking medication for your anxiety or depression, I would be both cautious and conservative.
Unfortunately, many times we don’t get the opportunity to make this choice. Few people really know the literature that warns us of risks and dangers, and the general societal discourse, backed with pharmaceutical money, marketing, and pseudo-science tells us a propaganda story. Science is not so neutral after-all, and no profession is going to openly turn its back on its own bread and butter.
This is why in today’s society, it pays to be an informed consumer.
About me: I am Rune Moelbak, a psychologist in Houston, TX, who treats people – not disorders. To read more about how I can help you with your anxiety or depression, visit my website: www.bettertherapy.com