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    Antidepressants to the Rescue? Angela’s Story

    Angela sat in her car bewildered by the prescription she’d just gotten from her doctor.

    “I can’t believe it’s come to this,” she thought. “I don’t want to take it, but I don’t want to keep on going this way either. I just want me back. I just want to feel good again.”

    She had a hard time remembering the last time she had felt good. Her depression had started with the death of her mother two years before and had just kept spiraling downhill from there. She felt tired, unmotivated, overwhelmed. She was losing the ability to concentrate, to focus. There was no such thing as a good night’s rest. The doctor had given her sleeping pills after her mother’s death, and now she used them regularly, but her sleep felt drugged, not natural or refreshing.

    Nothing felt natural or refreshing anymore. She should be over her mother’s death by now, but she still didn’t feel right. That’s why she’d gone back to her doctor. And she had another prescription from him, this time for an antidepressant.

    Angela agreed she was depressed, but couldn’t imagine how taking a pill would make her feel good again.

    But she was willing to do it because she wanted old Angela back: the Angela who used to laugh, the Angela who enjoyed her job, the Angela who found time to be with others. Over the past two years, her world had shrunk along with her joy and self-confidence. About the only things that hadn’t shrunk were her hips. For that alone she was willing to try the pill.

    She had to do something — she couldn’t go on like this.

    THE RISE IN PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS

    While there is no dispute that the incidence of depression is growing, the response to this growth is changing. The trend has been away from traditional psychotherapy and toward a pharmaceutical solution.

    According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the number of people being treated for depression between 1987 and 1997 tripled. One-third were prescribed medication in 1987, and by 1997 that number had increased to almost three-quarters. During the same period, the number of people who combined counseling with medication declined form 71 percent to 60 percent. In short, more people are being diagnosed with depression, more of them are being given medication, and fewer are receiving counseling.

    The whole-person approach is being replaced by the promise of a “magic pill.”

    Accompanying the increase in prescription medication is a lack of acknowledgment by the medical community of the role that physical health and nutrition play in addressing depression. The focal point of depression treatment is not what the body can do for itself but rather how the body, specifically the brain, is viewed as defective. Because the emphasis of the study is on a neurological chemical imbalance, it isn’t difficult to understand why the preferred solution is chemical, or pharmaceutical, in nature.

    Today’s emphasis on medications centers around a new classification of drugs called SSRIs (Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors), which include Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. Serotonin is one of the body’s important neurotransmitters, which assist in brain functions such as mood, sleep, mental alertness, and sexual responsiveness. These drugs certainly have a place in relieving symptoms of severe depression, but an overemphasis on these drugs does not incorporate alternative approaches helpful for alleviating depression.

    In a whole-person approach, the entire body is recognized as an important component in depression. The whole-person approach accepts the body as a complex organism and looks for systemic reasons for depression.

    NEXT MONDAY: What Your Body Can Tell You

    Are you depressed? Though no replacement for a formal diagnosis,  this survey can help you recognize the signs.

    SOURCE: Chapter 7, “Physical Causes of Depression,” in Moving Beyond Depression by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.

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