By Madeleine Latimer
How would you like to be medicated for a year to a point to where you feel numb and then be ripped away from the medicine without any knowledge of how to deal with your depressive symptoms and shoved back into the real world? That’s like feeding someone a five course meal for each meal over a month and then switching to feeding them a piece of bread each day. With depression medication, you cannot simply put someone on medicine for a period of time, and then take it away from them without teaching them the skills to deal with their remaining symptoms, otherwise they will be as confused and unprepared as they were before they were put on the medication. The use of anti-depressant medication should not be used as the sole solution for the treatment of depression.
Also called major depressive disorder, depression affects feelings, actions, and thoughts day to day. Depression is usually associated with brain chemicals being out of balance. Medical treatments are typically used to help treat depressive symptoms, while sometimes, various alternative options such as therapy or vitamins work better. Depression can be caused by a mixture of biological and genetic traits, adverse health conditions, current situations such as job loss, stress, trauma, or violence, severe grief, certain prescription medications, and/or alcohol or substance abuse. It can make people disinterested in doing things they used to do, and have negative impacts on family, work, and social life. Depression can also affect common physical ailments. Those ailments could be things like arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. There are many symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of depression. Some of the symptoms are severely low moods, extreme sadness, tearfulness, and/or a strong sense of hopelessness. There could be extreme weight loss or weight gain, increased rates of anxiety or stress for no reason, trouble sleeping, lots of self-criticism, withdrawing from friends and family, or an increase in abusing alcohol and drugs. Depression may also lead to thoughts that could involve suicide, and is fairly common, impacting around 1 out of 10 Americans.
There are multiple types of depression. Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with day to day life for weeks or longer. Dysthymia is a type of chronic depression where a person’s mood is regularly low. Seasonal affective disorder occurs and disappears at roughly the same time each year. Depressive psychosis is a combination of a depressed mood along with psychosis. There may be hallucinations or delusions with depressive psychosis. Postpartum depression is a short-term depression that happens after the birth of a baby. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is extreme mood shifts up to ten days before a woman’s menstrual cycle. It’s like a more extreme case of PMS.
It is important that the different types of depression are treated properly. The two most popular ways to treat depression are talk therapy and anti-depressants. Usually they are used together in the early phases of treatment, so the patient can adapt skills to help them with their depression once they are off medication. Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, happens with a certified therapist. There are three main types of anti-depressants: tricyclic anti-depressants (TCAs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSNRIs). Sometimes anti-depressants can help symptoms immediately, but for some people, the only way to cope with their depression is to start psychological treatment.
Not all types of depression require the use of medicine. Some types do not respond to medications at all. Doctors and other experts have said that often patients are prescribed anti-depressants unnecessarily. Clinical trials have shown anti-depressants do not typically work on mild types of depression. It has been found that the more severe the depression, the more likely the medicine will work. Studies of adults with mild depression showed that “ without anti-depressants, about 20 to 40 out of 100 people who took a placebo noticed an improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks, and with anti-depressants, about 40 to 60 out of 100 people who took an anti-depressant noticed an improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks.”1 Taking anti-depressants improved symptoms only in about 20 more people. This shows that anti-depressant medications are not that much more effective than placebo pills on people with mild depression. So if it does not work well for them, then why give them the medication? Proponents of anti-depressants believe that medication and therapy together can speed along treatment. The issue with that is that even though that may work for some people with major depressive disorder or dysthymia, it will not work for everyone. Some people just need therapy. It takes a while for medication to take full effect in a person and it might actually make the people, who’s depression does not react to medication well, worse.
There are other treatment options outside of medication that have shown to be successful on their own, or in conjunction with medication, if necessary. Therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and mindfulness therapy are gaining in popularity for the treatment of depression. There are a number of natural ways you can relieve depression funks should you fall into one. You can try to problem solve, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, where you think about what caused you to feel the way you are feeling and figure out how to solve that issue and work through it. Getting up and moving your body and eating balanced meals help alleviate symptoms. Avoid caffeine. Get out into the sun more and try mood-enhancing supplements like B6, B12, and Omega 3. These techniques will help you whether you are taking anti-depressants, or not. These methods continue to help once you stop taking anti-depressants. Patients treated for depression may relapse once they stop medication. While that may be true in some situations, if the patient slowly comes off of the medication and continues therapy until they are stable, then typically they do not.
There also may be underlying issues that are causing or contributing to depressive feelings, which can be fixed if properly addressed. Some underlying issues include situational depression, hormone imbalance, poor nutrition, low vitamin absorption, medical issues, thyroid issues, immune system issues, etc. It is possible that our lifestyle, lack of activity, and stress are the key reasons why so many Americans are depressed and anxious, and why that number has increased so dramatically. We should focus on making our lifestyles more balanced. We can fix many of these issues through changing our diets, taking vitamin supplements, or going through procedures to correct underlying issues. Some professionals believe that anti-depression medication can help with mood stabilization, while they perform other tests for potential underlying health issues like thyroid problems or hormone imbalances. It’s unlikely, though, the medication would work if the symptoms are due to another medical issue and not the chemical imbalance from depression. In this case alternative therapies could have more of an impact, while eliminating the risks associated with taking the medications.
While there are clearly certain circumstances where medication is absolutely necessary, often the correction of underlying issues and uses of alternative treatments result in higher success rates and lower recurrence of a depressive diagnosis. Depression is a complicated disability, and not all depression can be treated through medicine. A patient needs to learn skills to deal with their depression once they go off the medicine. There are many causes for depression. Some are easy to fix, and others not so much. For the people who deal with depression, the first step to that is truly understanding what your depression does and what helps you and your specific type of depression the most.
Header photo from everydayhealth