The number of Americans diagnosed with a mental disorder has grown exponentially, and to make matters worse, many are increasingly over-diagnosed. Curiously the numbers are unique to the United States among industrial nations, a fact in itself that should ring alarm bells.

Why take a pill, though, when a plethora of research supports lifestyle changes are promising alternatives, providing one makes a commitment to holistic change? Findings show that an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, meditation, among other health essentials for the brain and body, are equally if not more viable and effective treatments for anxiety and depression – notably, with no side effects.

Making a case for Ending the Era of Mass Psychiatry, Dr Marilyn Wedge discusses three recent books that seek answers to the question of why Americans are suffering a ‘unique’ to the U.S. ‘mental health epidemic’?

8 Comments to
Depression? Anxiety? Why Take a Pill, When It’s Your Nature to Heal? Part 1 of 3

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  1. Anti-depressants do work for severe depression – which has a tendency of repeating itself frequently. Medications allowed more people to live in the community, and live longer than what they would have if medication did not exist. While medication is far from perfect, it beats the alternative.

    That said, I do have a problem with so many people on medication who probably don’t need it. I will argue that managed care plays a large part in use of medication versus therapy. Insurance companies have no problem with paying for medication, but therapy visits are often limited. For example, my plan allows 12 visits per year unless “medical necessity” is met. In other words, a person needs a serious diagnosis to get more than 12 sessions. (Then you end up with people getting slapped with more “severe” diagnoses than what they fit the criteria for so they can get treatment, which leads to other problems…)

    • Thank you for the comment, Anna. The belief that antidepressants work, and the marketing forces at work to reinforce this belief, is precisely the problem that is addressed in the 3 books. They’re fascinating reads if you are interested and have the time. Thanks again for writing!

  2. I feel …it is not true that all antidepressants have been proven to be no better than placebos. It is true that lifestyle changes can help depressive symptoms. That is true for many illnesses. Would you tell a diabetic or a heart patient to throw away their medication simply because lifestyle changes help these conditions?

    The truth is, there is no single answer for mental illnesses because they are complicated. Those of us who have to live with these illnesses every day do not appreciate so-called experts telling us that our illness is a result of our society. We just want to live as healthy a life as possible. For some of us that means medication.

    • Thanks for writing, Ann. This is a controversial issue, and like many you have strong feelings in support of antidepressants. You are right to say there is no single answer. Lifestyle changes however – in particular ones that address all the needs of the body and human spirit – do make a dramatic difference. And there are persons under the guidance of their physicians who had heart conditions or diabetes that are now living healthy lives free of medication as well. I do not recommend people get off medication without the supervision of their doctors – and would not recommend it for those who are not prepared to commit to making serious lifestyle changes. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders however are not due to an absence of drugs, and neither are diabetes, or heart disease. The human body has amazing powers to heal itself when we give the exercise it needs, an overall happy and optimistic outlook on life, and stop ingesting foods or drink (sugar and other unhealthy fatty acids in particular) that cause inflammation in the body, which is the real culprit of many health issues.

      If you wish to read more on the link between brain inflammation and mental health:
      http://www.integrativepsychiatry.net/brain_inflammation.html

      • Self-care is crucial to getting and staying well. But there is a percentage of the population who doesn’t get relief from these things alone. In my personal experience, I was moderately depressed for several years and suicidally depressed for one. I went through a gamut of supplements (kava kava, skullcap, passion flower, l-tryptophan, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, high doses of B vitamins, in various orders), ate an excellent diet, ran two miles daily, went to work daily, and did all of those things you’re supposed to do. Nothing. I was sorting my things – removing all of those embarrassing things you don’t want people to find after you’re dead – and I decided to make a phone call to speak with a therapist. At that point, I was far enough gone that I couldn’t work for awhile. When my friends were moving all over the country to get their first “real jobs” out of college, my life revolved around therapy appointments and just trying to get out of bed in the morning.

        I would be dead without medication. I can say this in confidence. Therapy itself did not pull me out of the abyss, and the self-care things I continued to do weren’t helping. As much as I hate the pill-popping culture, it is why I am still on this earth. I likely would have joined the ranks of my ancestors without medication.

      • Thank you Anna for sharing your thoughts and experiences, how you came to see your medications as having saved you. I respect and honor your story and truth, and celebrate that you are alive and did your part to avoid repeating family history of suicide. In my view, pain and illness are ways that our body signals us, to let us know what we need inside, emotionally (spiritually), mentally, and physically. Subconscious beliefs are life shaping. Illness can become a critical way, for example, to get our connection needs met in our relationships with those close to us, how we learn to ‘feel’ we matter in life. I saying this to say that life issues are far more complex than a debate on whether to take meds or not.

        This is because our emotions run our lives, and not logic. I do not know what your deepest yearnings were, as a child and young woman, but I do know that mothers and family members who suffer from depression (and history of suicide in family) are not likely in position to provide and be present to a young child’s emotional needs — in this case yourself. Unlike adults, children are very much dependent on this in early years – for nourishment, and in particular, to regulate and calm their emotions, and eventually to learn how do do this for themselves.

        I do not question that what you did was the right thing for you. In my experience, human beings will go to great lengths to find happiness, fulfill their sense of purpose and connection, with inborn yearnings, emotional drives if you will to find meaning in connection to others, feel valued in relation to others and life.

        Regarding lifestyle choices, we also have more information today, in particular, of the damaging effects of inflammation (caused by sugar and fatty carbs) on mental and physical health issues. The American Diet is poisonous in this regard. Sugar addiction in particular is more a norm than an exception, and linked to depression, anxiety. Though you say you ate ‘healthy,’ in all due respect, many clients tell me they are eating healthy, and then they become aware, once they start looking and keeping a diary, that they are ingesting a quantity of sugar. And once sensitized, the body is thrown into a spin with even small amounts. It’s an addiction after all. In case you’d like to read more on this, I’ll be discussing this in upcoming Part 2. Thanks again for commenting.

    • I think what is stigmatizing is that… They tell you “pop a pill, it will correct the chemicals in your brain and you have no more reasons to complain. Still feeling sad? Try another med….”

      So simplifying. So dehumanizing.

      You say some of us don’t appreciate to hear society is wrong? Hell, I do apreciate it. Some things throw me. So should I pop a pill and STFU? I have some family problems… should I pop the pill because I am not supposed to feel sad and frustrated about some things, even if they are effed up to the core?

      Look, I can see why some turn to chemistry. If it takes the edge of, but does not numb your feelings too much… that is fine. THe key is to still live and feel. Some things are supposed to hurt like hell. But it seems that this point of view is not really appreciated in the West lately.

      It is all about balance. Maybe sometimes you need a little artificial help. But there are times you need to suffer, learn and grow. Yes, I have few quirks myself, sometimes it is very hard…. but I prefer to do it on my own. It is rewarding. It does not mean I have it easy and I am “normal”…

      • Appreciate your insights Venus, thanks for commenting. You point out something very significant, and that is the harmful effects of the view that it is ‘normal’ to want to get rid of painful emotions, that they mean something ‘wrong’ is wrong with us, and that taking the easy way out is beneficial or preferable. The opposite is true. We must train our brains to get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. Without this essential ego-strength of resilience, it is impossible to protect our happiness so that we can live and love courageously with whole hearts.

  3. You are correct that “…it is in our nature to heal.”

    But you are missing a small key piece of information. It is in our nature to spontaneously remit from certain mental events.

    Forty years ago designers and engineers accidentally discovered a problem of human physiology when it caused mental breaks for knowledge workers using the first prototypes of close-spaced office workstations. It was the vision startle reflex and the cubicle was designed to block peripheral vision for a concentrating worker to stop it in offices by 1968.

    Today almost anyone can created one of those defective workstations by using a computer where there is repeating detectable movement in peripheral vision.

    When it happened to my wife she heard voices and had depressive crying episodes about impossible situations she hallucinated.

    I discovered that this simple problem is essentially unknown in medicine or mental health services. Only one doctor in nine years admitted he had seen the believed temporary, harmless, episodes while in residency.

    It is the only mental break that has been correctly prevented after discovery. It’s not in the DSM. No one screens for it before beginning standard treatment. When it remits because Subliminal Distraction exposure stopped the doctor, talk therapy, or a drug is given credit.

    That’s the case for these anti-depression drugs. There is no “testable objective evidence” that any psychotropic drug does anything. They are given credit in from 1% to 33% of cases where they are used. (That number depends on the source.)

    When they are tested using the double blind method it is assumed that only the drug or placebo is at work. If there is a chronic SD exposure victim mistaken as mentally ill in the test group their symptoms will remit or relapse in concert with changes in their SD exposure.

    Most who hear about Subliminal Distraction refused to believe, make the phone calls, or investigate to discover that it is explained in first semester psychology under subliminal sight and peripheral vision reflexes.

    No one has put all the pieces together before.

    • Fascinating contribution, L K, thank you for sharing this information. I am not familiar with subliminal distraction, and plan to do some reading on the topic. Thanks again.

  4. Anti-depressants help some & harm some…but what cannot harm anybody is an attempt to battle the condition in other ways…here are some hints–
    http://jeeteraho.blogspot.in/2012/02/anxiety-and-stress-terrible-twins.html

  5. Hi Athena,
    I completely believe in a holistic treatment of depression. In clinical tests, depressed patients are deficient in Vitamin B6, B12, and Omega 3 fatty acids. LifeAmines.com proposes which nutrients are important and where to find them. Hope this helps your readers! http://www.LifeAmines.com/health-help.html#depression

  6. I think it is dangerous to make a sweeping generalization about antidepressants being useless and that there is no such thing as chemical imbalances. Applying one condition and solution to all is the mistake the medical community already makes.
    Still, I am one who was misdiagnosed and overdosed and believe treatment caused more damage than it helped. But how does one make lifestyle changes when it is impossible to get out of bed and fix a simple egg much less do all of the suggested changes. When one has to function to have food and shelter and has few resources, the antidepressant is all that is offered and it does help one get to one’s feet and get one’s self to work.
    I am getting close to the end of the process of eliminating all but the necessary medications. The necessary being Levothyroxin for Hashimoto’s Hypothyroiditis (does that cause a chemical imbalance?)and ERT (another chemical imbalance?) Withdrawal has been brutal, and I still get depressed thought not as depressed or as often as I got while taking an antidepressant.
    I blame the medical community which is, after all, made up of people who have their own agendas, philosophies, and do make mistakes, but they have the hammer. So, authors can write all they want about what we should be doing but until it can filter down to the GP, it’s just so much hot air.

    • Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Susun. I agree that sweeping generalizations about antidepressants ‘being useless’ would be unhelpful. The point of this post, however, is to note that the opposite is occurring, and has been for decades. There is clear evidence that antidepressants do about as well as placebos, and the medical industry withholds these findings. Thanks again for commenting!

  7. Most people are so crushingly boring that a single drink makes them more interesting. Even great sex is so great because it floods the brain with chemicals. The reason the USA has more of this is because we are allowed to push ourselves further, experience more, learn more about ourselves. This is a good thing. Some countries have a culture that bans drugs and alcohol but then are obsessed with mind control through daily ritual and strict control. Hardly a superior way to be human is it?

    • Thanks for sharing, Zella. Since when is dependency on alcohol or drugs a freedom? That’s bondage. I love our country as well, truth be told, in comparison, other industrial nations enjoy more freedom, and better quality of life for families and children. I hope you agree that it’s okay to say we can do better, because we can. Thanks for writing.

  8. I very much believe in holistic recovery – and in my experience seeing a psychiatrist has involved 50 minutes appointments and psychotherapy in addition to medication (which includes both natural and pharmaceutical agents) as well as attention to diet, lifestyle, stress, and various forms of exercise.

    Over-prescribing does appear to be a problem (at least I’ve heard it is, in my experience getting a prescription takes some advocating!), but I think pronouncements that pills don’t work are as harmful as pronouncements that they cure everything. Many of us need a combination of things in order to feel better. The last thing I want to do is judge what has worked for someone else. I don’t think polarising the debate is helpful. Anti-anxiety meds have helped me function (as has psychotherapy), and helped me be able to take other steps that help long-term (ie exercise, establish routine).

    • I appreciate your comments, Kaye. Glad meds have worked for you. It’s not about judging those who use meds. The point of this post is to note that there are piles of research that show pills aren’t effective – and especially other findings that show they can be harmful to the brain – and these findings are withheld, not publicly known. The medical industry is in control because, of course, money makes it possible to put your message out. Thanks again for commenting!

  9. It is VERY apparent you have never suffered from depression, anxiety or any other mental illness. I dont know of anything more painful then severe depression or a worse feeling than being anxious all the time. I too, would not be among the living had it not been for medications. They absolutely make a difference in our daily lives. If I had a choice, I would take a physical illness over a mental illness any day. You need to thank your lucky stars you dont or have ever suffered any mental illness and until you walk in my shoes or anyone elses that has some form of mental illness you certainly shouldnt being making judgements about the medications that make our lives a little bit easier to live.

    • Thanks for wring, Laurie. I appreciate your sharing your feelings on this topic. Keep in mind, the intent of this post is not prescriptive – not designed to advise people to take meds or not, as this is not a therapist’s job anyway. It is rather to note that the public remains unaware of significant findings, and it’s because the medical industry (wrongfully in my mind) controls what the public knows. You may not agree, and that’s fine. Why not get curious and check out for yourself before dismissing it. Thanks again for commenting.

  10. Have you ever been in a black bottomless pit with mental pain and anguish so bad you dont want to take another breath? Of course not! If you had, you would know that the medications you think are a joke have saved many a life. Yes, they have side effects but what doesnt? The relief and benefits more than outweigh the side effects. I dont care what your research says. They have saved my life and that’s what is important to me.

  11. Hi Athena, while I found your article very interesting I am also a little unclear about your position. Given the large amount of research that (supposedly) shows antidepressants to be as effective as placebos, and far more damaging, does it make sense to counsel your readers to consult with their doctors before reducing (or eliminating) these medications? If these doctors have all prescribed substances that do not help, but which only harm, why should we trust these very same doctors to help us get off them?

    • Thanks for writing, snow queen. Good question. It’s a therapist job to refer clients to consult with their doctors. Most doctors may not be trained in preventive measure, however, they are trustworthy, and in best position to monitor clients as they taper off. I have many clients that came to me with a long list of medications, and with the supervision of their psychiatrist and primary care doctor, and completely drug free, and very happy, and proud of themselves for doing courageous healing work. It really does take a lot of dedication, as I emphasize. It’s not easy. It takes quite a bit of daring, and it’s not for everyone.

      • Thanks for the reply: still, I was wondering how these doctors can be trustworthy if they are ignoring all the evidence that indicates that they are actually doing more harm than good with the meds they bountifully prescribe?

  12. I hate meds, any meds, full stop. BUT I still believe that they lifted me sufficiently to enable me to function in my first bout of depression. However I was left taking them for far too long with no proper review. Eventually I took things into my own hands and devised a weaning off program that my GP reluctantly agreed was OK, proceeded and successfully came off to be drug and depression free for several years. I have had several bouts of severe depression+/-anxiety since. Each time I have agreed to medication in the early stages – sometimes with severe side effects (my body trying to tell me something?) – and have had to fight to change meds. and later to come off them. For last bout, the prescription after the initial period was doing more harm than good as I was left totally numb and that made me feel …. depressed! This time I told my GP after I had weaned off and he was not overly happy, but my mood was picking up to a more real, though still quite painful, state. I have promised him that if I think I am descending too far I will see him with a mind to taking a-ds again. Fortunately he treats me as an adult, but he also had faith in meds. I have to agree that there is over-prescribing of a-ds etc (not just in the US – I am in the UK) to cure what should be regarded as some of life’s downs that are generally naturally time limited, though I am sure that time must seem like an eternity to the sufferer. I cannot help thinking of how antibiotics were at one time prescribed for every snuffle, but their use is much more selective now. What it comes down to really is that I see meds as a crutch – you don’t give a crutch to someone with a sprained ankle, you suggest physiotherapy and gradual exercise, you give crutches to someone with a broken ankle until it has mended but no longer, a very few people have something that requires long term use. Surely that is the way that meds and adjunct talking therapies should be used and not to plaster cuts and bruises.

    P.S. I have had those books on my reading list for a while, thank you for the reminder, I really must get hold of them (and maybe pass them on to my GP?)

    • Thanks for commenting, V A. The case with antibiotics is an excellent analogy, thanks for pointing this out. It’s another reminder of how important it is that research is not selectively withheld. The reason we are now very careful about taking (or prescribing antibiotics) is because media campaigns did a good job informing the public and doctors (i.e., that antibiotics were losing their effectiveness, that this could potentially be dangerous, etc.). So far, this is not the case with research on antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs. Not only is the public woefully uninformed, doctors and psychiatrists may also be uninformed. As of the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to directly advertise and ‘sell’ their products to doctors. How unethical (and dangerous) is that?

  13. Finally! Are we going to wake up? America has been subjugated by the big pharm long enough, it is time to fight back. I lost decades of my life to them. I do have PTSD which was accurately diagnosed when I was 27 but they also said I was depressed and needed medication which I did not want but reluctantly agreed after a few months. With-in two months on being on the medication I tried to kill myself and was re-diagnosed as bipolar. After that I never again held a job, nor held my children, my life was full of drugs one after another and in & out of hospitals until I found a doctor who listened to me and took me off of all the psychotic medications. That was ten years ago. Now I have my life back. A few years ago I was haveing trouble sleeping and a differnt doctor who did not believe me told me he would not give me a any anti depressants did so. I ended up in the psych hospital with a manic episode. Making it very clear that I do not have bi-polar illness but mania bought on by miss use of psych drugs. The doctors who saw me before starting those medications and witness the change are now rethinking their belief in drugs as a cure all. Not everything is the same, I have long term memory problems as well as many physical health problems that at least one of my doctors believes is from those from all the different and heavey duty drugs I was put on for an illness I did not even have. Off of antidepressants I have never been manic but trying to tell P-doctors and anyone in that system was impossible-I was labeled as in denial, hostile and non-compliant. I also now have thyroid problems although thankfully no diabetes. I lost close to 150lbs going off the pills too. I can think, feel,have relationships and do art again. I am working on being angry because I’m afraid to be angry, in the past if I got angry I was locked up. Yet I have every right to be angry at those who medicated me and took away my life with drugs and diagnosed me while on a drug and would not listen to me, although I told them from the very beginning it was the drugs not me.

    I can not wait to read part III. I’m probably doing most of it already but I look forward to reading it. I haven’t heard of a anti-immune diet before but that is very similar to how I eat. Before the drugs I was a vegetarian and all of those spices were part of my diet. I mostly went back to that when I got off the P-drugs and thats part of how I lost the weight. I tend to avoid over processed food just because I like the way real food tastes, it is great to hear that it is even healthier than I thought, and that I’m doing someing for my mental health just by eating this way.

    • Thanks for sharing your story and experiences Anne. I am so glad to know you are now doing well, and working to process anger. Thanks for writing.

  14. As someone who suffers from Bipolar Disorder, depression and anxiety, I am a tad insulted by this article. As much I as I hate being on my meds, I have no choice!!! The last time I tried to choose, I saw hallucinations and scared my husband! Sp please keep in mind while the natural way may work for some, we others need to be on these meds for our safety!

    • Thanks for sharing your strong views in support of meds, and how they’ve helped you deal with Bipolar Disorder. The lifestyle changes approach is not for everyone, I agree with you there. Hope you get a chance to read Part 2 on the five factors that elevate stress to toxic levels, thus risks for depression and anxiety. I’d be interested in your thoughts on these five factors, if you’d like to comment. Thanks again for stopping by, I appreciate hearing from you.

  15. I do agree with this article in certain parts. I have suffered from depression since I was born, more or less. I was not treated until about 16 years old. These meds have kept me from committing suicide for many years, and none of the other ones I took helped me at all. I know that a lot of my problems are from emotional abuse that I have endured on and off in my life, but, I still inherited the depression from my mother and her family, there are others in my family with differing diagnoses. Any way yes I think med are good where actually needed, …But, what we really need is compassion, I don’t see any of this anymore in this profession, it is all about insurance and money, and they need to brush up on their ethics in how they handle and treat us as patients.

    • Thank you for writing Vicki to share your views. I so agree what we really need is compassion in how patients are treated in either case, meds or not. If you have a moment, you may be interested in Part 2 of this post on five factors that elevate levels of toxic stress and thus risks for depression and anxiety. Thanks for writing!

  16. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be everyone’s nature to heal. I saw my mother, who was never medicated while I was growing up, become more and more severely psychotic, and eventually totally disabled and suicidal. I think the decision to use meds has to be made case-by-case. I got on the medication train at age 19, right when Prozac came out. I can’t say that it has always worked out well for me- if I knew then what I know now, I would never have gone on half the meds they put me on. But when you are so depressed that you can’t get up off of the couch, don’t want to live, and swallowing a pill is about the most that you can do other than making it to the bathroom (and I have literally crawled to the bathroom), then I’ll try anything. Shock my brain. Give me drugs. Give me anything. Just don’t tell me to go and cook a nutritious meal when I can’t go into a grocery store.

    • Thanks for writing, Emily. Your comments seem to emphasize how important it is to break free of widespread messages that have convinced us, overall as a nation, to prefer to depend on something out there quick and easy to make us feel okay, and take away any pain. Please know that I realize this is not easy to do, yet it’s not designed to be. Our brains are designed to struggle to solve problems, and become increasingly efficient in the process. Believing in ourself and our inner capacity is key … Thanks for writing!

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