Has life gotten more stressful and difficult for all of us in the past decade or two? Probably not. For most people, there are ups and downs—taking the good times with the bad. Back in the 50’s, people were worried about nuclear war. In the 60’s, about Vietnam. Every generation has its anxieties—and most generations just deal with it. But if you look at the use of antidepressant drugs in the United States over the past 15 years, you might think we’re a society of despondent citizens. In fact, new research shows that approximately one in eight Americans are now using antidepressants.
The survey, which was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, found that the number of Americans over the age of 12 (yes, they track for children now) taking antidepressants has jumped a whopping 65 percent from 1999 to 2014.1 These results are based on the responses of more than 14,000 U.S. residents to a government questionnaire that was completed between 2011 and 2014. The investigators analyzed current answers and compared them with those of earlier surveys beginning in 1999.
As the researchers examined the replies to the question of whether a subject had used antidepressant medications in the previous month, they found several notable distinctions. There was a considerable difference between the use of these drugs in men versus women. Women reported nearly twice the use of antidepressants as men, with 16.5 percent of women taking them compared to just under nine percent of men.
Extremely long-term use was another unsettling finding, and it occurs more often than you might think. The survey showed that approximately 25 percent of those who took antidepressants said they had been using them for a period of 10 years or longer.
Variations also came up when race was considered. Whites were far and away more likely to take antidepressants, in fact--more than blacks, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans combined. A sizable 16.5 percent of whites admitted antidepressant use in the prior month, whereas only 5.6 percent of blacks, 5 percent of Hispanics, and 3.3 percent of Asians used them.
Why such considerable differences among various populations? Some of the discrepancies may be culturally related, since non-whites might not be as quick to take any type of mental health drug. A 2017 study at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Alexandria, Virginia found that white Americans are at least twice as likely as those in other racial groups to take a variety of psychiatric medications.2 And men in general might be more hesitant to take antidepressants due to the widespread sexual side effects, including erectile dysfunction and delayed or blocked orgasm. Not that these medications don’t affect women; antidepressant use can produce both a lack of libido and vaginal dryness.
But even more importantly, why are the rates of antidepressant usage so high in general? Sadly, much of the medical establishment takes the quick and easy route of prescribing a pharmaceutical drug that will reduce the worst symptoms of depression, even though it comes with a bevy of problems. Aside from the sexual side effects mentioned earlier, antidepressants have been linked to weight gain, insomnia, nausea, and fatigue. And let’s not forget suicide and violent antisocial behavior.
Ultimately, of course, we have to focus on taking care of ourselves. That means if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, such as loss of interest in normal activities, decreased energy, and persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness, you need to take action to improve your situation. But rather than immediately starting a course of antidepressants, you are much better off at least trying natural options including herbal formulas that contain St. John’s wort, ginkgo, and ashwagandha, all of which are proven to treat depression. Plus, hormonal imbalance may play a role in your mood disorder, in which case a progesterone crème or a testosterone balancing formula might be successful.
Talk therapy can be very helping in working out some of your negative feelings too, but don’t feel you need to stick with any doctor advocating pharmaceuticals. And start a daily exercise routine. A 1999 study at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina showed that working out is more effective and has longer lasting benefits for mental health than drugs.3
Look, if all else fails, pharmaceuticals, despite all their negatives, are certainly an option—they are a Godsend for some people—but they should absolutely be the option of last resort.
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