Hidden Costs of Depression Drugs, And Natural Alternatives
Drugs marketed for the treatment of depression are the second most popular prescription medication in the United States. In fact, 11 percent of all Americans age 12 and older use antidepressant medication. But are they effective? And are they safe? What are the hidden costs that you should know about? What are the most effective solutions you can use to feel better? In today’s article we’re going to take a look.
The History of Antidepressant Drugs
Did you know that when antidepressant drugs were first developed in the 1950s drug companies weren’t very excited to market them? The reason was that less than 1/10 of one percent of the population was thought to be depressed. And, in fact, sales through the 1950s and 1960s were poor.
What happened to make antidepressant drugs among the most popular drugs today? In a word, marketing. Drug companies successfully convinced increasing numbers of people that they needed drugs and that life was unsatisfactory.
Of course, some people genuinely are depressed, and that has been the case for all of history. But the marketing of antidepressant drugs to those who were not truly in need is dangerous.
The Effectiveness of Antidepressants
How effective are antidepressant drugs? Research shows that with few exceptions, the drugs are not effective. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the drugs are no more effective than placebo. Placebo is a pill that does not contain the drug. But if someone is given a pill with no drug and allowed to believe that it contains the drug, that person stands just as good a chance of benefitting as if he was given the drug.
The primary exception is in major depressive disorders among men who have had a heart attack recently. For those men antidepressant drugs do show a modest benefit...in the short term. That doesn’t mean that antidepressants are necessary for such men. But research shows that other men are unlikely to receive any benefit due to the drug itself.
It is important to understand, however, that antidepressant drugs do not provide a long term cure. In the few cases where they can actually provide some modest benefit, they only work as long as they are taken. Once they are stopped, the effects also stop.
As we’ll see in a moment, long term success is only had through non-drug treatment. In some few cases drugs can be used in the short term in conjunction with non-drug treatments. But only the non-drug treatments have been proven to help men recover long term from depression.
Antidepressant drugs are not entirely benign. Although the drugs are marketed as being very targeted in their action, no one is actually certain how they work. For example, the most commonly used antidepressants are all called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, no one knows for certain that they work to inhibit reuptake of serotonin. That’s just a guess made by the scientists who developed them.
What is known, however, is that they are strong drugs that alter brain chemistry. And the side effects can be quite unpleasant. Among the side effects are drug-induced mania, suicide, erectile dysfunction, and weight gain or loss (depending on the type of drug).
Some of the effects are long lasting, as well. For example, even after discontinuing the use of the drug, many men experience chronic erectile dysfunction caused by the drug. And weight gain may persist as well, particularly if the weight gain produced metabolic changes as a result.
Furthermore, discontinuing antidepressant drugs is something that must be done carefully because the side effects of discontinuation can also be very unpleasant. If you are already taking antidepressant drugs, do not discontinue their use abruptly, and consult with someone knowledgeable about how to stop using the drug if you wish to do so.
Effective, Natural Treatment
Whether you use drugs or not, the only proven effective treatments of depression are non-drug treatments. So no matter whether you use drugs or not, for long term success, you need to also do something else.
What are the proven treatments? Here’s some.
- Although most of us probably think of psychotherapy as a tool for treating depression, studies show that most forms of psychotherapy are no more effective than placebo. Of course, that means that they are just as effective as drugs, but without the side effects. So psychotherapy certainly isn’t harmful. But a few forms of therapy have been shown to be helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is marginally more effective than placebo. Perhaps the most effective is a mindfulness based approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
- Some nutritional approaches have proven to be effective. Omega 3 fats from fish have been shown to be effective in relieving depression. And men who eat oily fish more often have less depression than men who eat less oily fish.
- Supplementation with something called S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe) has also been shown to be more effective than placebo, and it is safe. SAMe is a nutrient that is naturally produced by the human body.
- Bright light therapy has been shown to be helpful both for seasonal affective disorder and nonseasonal depression.
- Exercise is proven to be effective. Of course, the motivation to do exercise is generally lacking in depression, but even just a modest increase in walking throughout the week has been shown to lead to long term improvements.
What all of these natural approaches have in common is that they can lead to long term improvements. They also have few or no side effects except for positive side effects such as better health.
Depression is something that affects many men to some degree. The drug companies have successfully convinced the public that moderate, conditional depression is a medical condition that should be treated with drugs. But in fact, drugs cannot solve the problem. And drugs come with unpleasant side effects and risks.
Natural treatments are the only proven successful treatments for depression. Whether used with or without drugs, long term success depends upon taking positive steps using natural treatments.