There is a simple answer — yes and no.
No may not be the answer most people expect, so let’s start with that. Dr. Mike Miller, a psychiatrist with Salem hospital, points out that even with all the good antidepressants, many people with clinical depression still are not being reached.
“By its very nature, depression makes it difficult for people to ask for help, or even acknowledge they need help,” Miller said.
Most people don’t realize that depression has a variety of manifestations, many of them related to panic, fear or anxiety. The person affected and probably the people close to them might never think of their problems as being depression.
Picking the correct antidepressant is not really an easy task, with seven major and many minor players in the field of antidepressant drugs. Some medications are more energizing, some are more relaxing, some may have more side effects than others, and so on.
“The drugs nowadays are very effective — if a patient doesn’t respond within a certain time period, they need to let their doctor know. Dosages can be raised, other drugs tried, side effects counteracted.”
But what about, “Yes, we are overprescribing antidepressants”?
If you watch TV or read magazines, you may know more about these drugs than you would probably care to. If you ever thought a pill could make your life easier or happier, you might even be tempted to coax your doctor to let you give it a try.
Previous to Prozac, the psychiatric drugs available were effective, but with tremendous side effects. Miller says that before this new wave of antidepressants, no doctor would have ever casually considered giving a patient a drug for depression, not unless they were very sure of the nature of their patient’s disease process.
Nowadays, he says, because many of the drugs have beneficial side effects, doctors can prescribe them for things as varied as post-traumatic stress disorder and social phobia.
But Dr. Claire Norton, a hospitalist with Sound Inpatient Physicians, who operates in association with Salem Hospital, says to be very cautious of antidepressant pills.
“While many people benefit from antidepressants helping them through a rough time in their life, they don’t realize that going off of an antidepressant can have some serious side effects. Sometimes the withdrawal from an antidepressant can be very unpleasant, unpleasant enough that it influences people who suspect they don’t really need the drug forever from really being able to quit.”
Miller says that if you’re considering going on an antidepressant, ask questions: Get a better idea of the nature of depression before you tackle it, and make sure you’re well-informed about side effects. If you’re already on one, make sure you know what to expect if you stop taking it, and don’t be afraid to ask about new drugs.