(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)
Whether you talk about it or not, chances are you or one of your friends takes an antidepressant to combat depression. A recent report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that in 2010, 16 percent of adults ages of 45 to 64 take at least one antidepressant — a 91 percent increase since 2000. And among adults age 65 and older, the same percentage use antidepressants, up 72 percent from 2000.
If you segment women only, the numbers are even more dramatic: Nearly one in four women aged 40 to 59 takes at least one antidepressant and nearly one in five women aged 60 and older, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Antidepressant use is on the rise as more people are turning to medication to treat their depression. “[Depression] is one of the most common mental health illnesses of our time,” says Dr. Marie A. Bernard, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
Some researchers say antidepressants do little more good than non-drug therapies when treating anything other than severe depression.
The Lowdown on Antidepressants
Thirty years ago, most mental health researchers believed that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” of neurotransmitters in the brain. But the current prevailing theory is more holistic than just blaming brain chemicals.
According to Understanding Depression, a health report from Harvard Medical School, depression is brought on by a diverse cocktail of causes that includes nerve cell and nerve circuitry problems, genetic predisposition, stressful life events, certain medications and underlying medical issues.
Decades of research have shown that antidepressants can help alleviate the symptoms of depression in some patients. “Depression is a condition we now have means of treating which are way beyond the primitive ways of approaching mental health problems,” says Bernard. “Antidepressants can really make a difference in a person’s life.”
However, antidepressants don’t work for everyone; the medical community agrees that SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) shouldn’t be seen as a one-size-fits-all solution. Moreover, some researchers suggest that antidepressants do little more good than non-drug therapies and even placebos when treating anything other than very severe depression. Add to that the high incidence of antidepressant side effects (which can range from headache, agitation and nausea to sexual dysfunction, dry mouth and bladder problems), and you may think twice about taking that pill.
After more than 30 years of experience treating patients with depression, Joyce Mikal-Flynn, a nurse practitioner and associate professor at California State University, Sacramento, School of Nursing, has found that although antidepressants help some people, in some cases a placebo therapy works better. “With situational or minor depression, people are going to get better on their own,” she says. “[Their mood] is naturally going to lift and shift, but the side effects of antidepressants may make them feel worse in the end.” The best way to help yourself through a difficult time, she adds, is to tell yourself that depression is normal — that feelings ebb and flow.
“If the person is not having an issue with a chemical imbalance, then adding an antidepressant may not make much of a difference in their overall functioning,” says Lisa Strohman, clinical psychologist and founder of Technology Wellness Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. “[Antidepressants] help people who are in current severe stress that have an actual imbalance or need for pharmacological intervention.”
She and other mental health professionals believe SSRIs can be a viable short-term strategy for kicking someone out of a depressive slump, but that drugs should eventually be tapered off in favor of healthy living strategies. “While antidepressant drugs can help improve mood, they cannot solve problems in people’s lives,” she says.
So if you can’t tolerate medication or you tried antidepressants but they don’t work for you, consider trying one of these natural fixes featured in the slideshow below.
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