By Jarred Dee
One in five Americans suffer from depression in their lifetime. It affects more than 17 million Americans each year. According to a statistic from the National Institute of Health, the estimated cost of depression to the U.S. is between 33 and 44 billion dollars a year. Depression is linked to the more than 30,000 suicides a year. (Ainsworth 3-5) The depression being discussed is not merely a day of feeling blue but a clinical diagnosis, also known as Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD (Clinical Practice Guidelines).
The statistic of one in five Americans would include at least one of my family members, probably two. My family has had 4 members who have battled clinical depression, including myself. Depression is a bigger problem than most Americans realize and it demands immediate attention. Although the new technology of antidepressant medications can be effective, negative side effects and healthy alternatives should make antidepressant medications your last resort.
Depression is not a new thing, and neither are its treatments. Antidepressant medications have evolved from monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) to tricyclics (TCA) to the most recent selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). SSRI’s are much more effective than earlier medications, and some versions such as Prozac have even been called “miracle drugs” (Ainsworth 93). It would be ignorant of anybody to say that antidepressants have no place in the medical field. With over 54 million Americans having been prescribed Prozac alone (Prozac), SSRI’s have established a large role in the treatment of depression. Such medications are capable of correcting some problems that nothing else can.
However, these medications do not come without their negative aspects, and there are many. SSRI’s are notorious for their negative side effects. Ainsworth states that some smaller side effects can include headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and stomachaches (89). It can be argued that these small side effects are nothing when compared to the symptoms that a depressed person faces daily, but that doesn’t make them any less harmful.
SSRI’s also have much larger side effects that must be taken into consideration. One of the larger side effects that SSRI’s can cause is sleep disturbances. Ironically, depression itself is noted for its symptoms of bad sleep patterns, insomnia or excessive sleep (Ainsworth 57). SSRI’s do not help these sleeping problems. Psychology Information Online (PIO) states that one very common and large side effect of some SSRI’s is the constant feeling of drowsiness and the feeling of never having slept enough. The medication that is supposed to stop depression is actually adding to one of its worst symptoms, proving it a non-preferred method of treatment.
Another major negative side effect that antidepressants can cause is the inability to reach orgasm (PIO). An interview with Sarah reveals that depression alone has caused the inability to reach orgasm for her, and that this is a common problem for males and females as well. Medications add to this problem rather than solve it. Antidepressant medications once again fail to treat the symptoms of the very illness that they are trying to cure.
The application of antidepressants is not an exact science, and it still poses risks. SSRI’s alter the amount of chemicals in your brain, either by supplying chemicals or preventing the use of certain chemicals in the brain. Earlier medications, such as MAO’s, proved to be quite dangerous while proper dosage amounts were found for each patient. PIO explains that an overdose of certain MAO’s can be fatal. The newer medications such as SSRI’s have greatly reduced this risk, but fatal overdosing still remains as a very small possibility. Accidental suicide can be caused by the very medication that is supposed to be treating depression, a large cause of suicides in the United States (PIO).
Due to the function of antidepressant medications, they can cause complex problems that are unrelated to depression. As antidepressants alter the amount of chemicals in your brain at any given time, the disruption of such a complex system can lead to many other problems. One example of this is brought up in Elkin’s Depression and Natural Medicine when it says, “While they [SSRI’s] raise the level of a certain type of serotonin, they lower another. There is also a concern that these drugs act as nervous system stimulants, which can result in altering one’s perception of reality and impairing judgment” (32). Impairing judgment is one of the side effects of alcohol, and we know how dangerous that can be. These side effects must be considered when deciding on treatments for depression. When taken with other prescription drugs, SSRI’s can cause serious problems. Ainsworth reports that “SSRI’s interact with many other medications by altering the speed or efficiency of liver enzymes that break down the other medications” (93). The result can cause serious side effects. This is an especially big problem for the large percentage of elderly people taking antidepressants in combination with other prescriptions. Ainsworth explains that “It is wise to discuss with your physician any medication combinations that include an SSRI” (95). Any use of antidepressant medication has its risks, and must be evaluated carefully.
Many of the negative side effects of antidepressant medications have been evaluated against their risks and benefits. I do not wish you to believe that the only road to treat depression is dangerous. There is an alternative, less risky method for treating depression that is much less intrusive. Healthy alternatives to antidepressant medications exist naturally, and can be just as effective. One such healthy alternative can be found by monitoring the diet. Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids make up our body, and provide chemicals to our brain through our body’s natural processes. Deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids can cause a lack of serotonin and norepinephrine, the primary chemicals involved in mood regulation (Elkins 26). This deficit can be caused by eating unhealthily, or simply by not eating enough. Diets, a fad among Americans, are also related to depression. Elkins writes “The most common reason for abandoning a diet is dealing with the serotonin depletion we experience. The classic symptoms of dieting, which include irritability, depression, moodiness, and nervousness can be the direct result of a serotonin deficiency, created by a lack of carbohydrates” (114). A natural consequence of a low carbohydrate intake is lower levels of serotonin in the brain, suggesting that a healthy diet results in a healthy amount of serotonin in the brain. Elkins supports this idea by saying, “If serotonin levels are so crucial to both depression and carbohydrate craving, amino acid and vitamin therapy may be extremely valuable in helping to control neurotransmitter levels” (114). The purpose of antidepressant medications is to help regulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which can also be accomplished naturally by the proper intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. The healthy alternative offers no negative side effects.
As discussed earlier, sleep plays a major role in depression as well. I conducted an interview with a therapist by the name of Terry Route. He is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), and has been a practicing therapist for over 20 years. He has worked extensively with patients suffering from depression throughout his employment. I asked him what the first thing he suggested to a patient suffering from depression was. He responded with, “Fix their sleep. Get them to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Sleep where you will not be disturbed, in the basement with earplugs, in the dark, away from your spouse if necessary.” Route continued by saying that when they actually followed this advice, the depression was overcome in 75% of all cases.
I must admit that there is some controversy here, due to the fact that depression causes sleep abnormalities. If depression causes un-restful and interrupted sleep, how can sleeping be a cure for depression? The trick here lies with the neurotransmitters in the brain. Serotonin helps regulate sleep cycles. “If serotonin levels are abnormally low, sleeping intervals decrease. In other words, you tend to wake up easier than you are supposed to” (Elkins 194). Lower serotonin levels means that your sleep is interrupted easier than it should be. By following Route’s advice you actually improve your restful sleep and allow your body to replenish depleted serotonin levels while you rest. Sleep, a natural process without negative side effects, has been proven to aid in relieving symptoms of depression.
According to Justice Wirz’s article in the Archives of General Psychiatry, one other factor that can naturally combat depression without negative side effects is sunlight. As light is received in the pineal gland through the eyes, it triggers the shutdown of the production of melatonin, another chemical found in the body. Melatonin is a key chemical that induces the production of serotonin. When a person does not receive enough sunlight, the production cycle of melatonin is disrupted. The pineal gland does not function properly and does not produce enough melatonin, resulting in an insufficient amount of melatonin to trigger the production of serotonin. (861-862)
Doesn’t artificial light cause the same reaction in the pineal gland as sunlight? Dr. Richard Wurtman, Ph.D. of MIT points out that “artificial lights that are typically used to illuminate interiors provide only around one-tenth of the light which would be found outside under one shady tree on a sunny day” (qtd. in Elkins 93). The information suggests that there is no replacement for good old fashion sunlight, and our body knows it.
Another good natural combatant to depression is exercise. Prolonged exercise produces endorphins in the body. Endorphins can cause a feeling of euphoria, also known as “runner’s high,” which counteracts the sad moods of depression. It has been suggested and studied that endorphins in the body help restore chemical imbalances to their natural state, aiding in the treatment of depression. An article posted on the web page for the American Psychology Association reads, “The greater the length of the exercise program and the larger the total number of exercise sessions, the greater the decrease in depression with exercise” (Psychology Matters). Antidepressant medications and their negative side effects have been discussed, as well as positive healthy alternatives. Each has been weighed for its benefits and risks. Negative side effects can be extreme or mild, depending on the case. Antidepressant medications have been proven to treat depression, but not without their risks. Such medications should only be used when absolutely necessary, when other methods have been exhausted. A depressed person may have a hard time getting themselves out of the hole they are in even when they want to try natural treatment methods. In such cases, medication can be used as a means to get the person started towards a more healthy treatment method. The least intrusive method of treatment should be our first effort. If natural methods do not work, then the risks of antidepressant medications become a worthy option for treatment.
I have suffered from deprssion in my own life. I have had a front row seat as my loved ones suffered. Nobody knows better than myself how nasty depression can be, and how hard it is to conquer. My family members and I have tried every possible medication and we remain unsatisfied. The negative side effects are horrible. I have done everything I can to treat my depression without the use of antidepressant medications and succeeded, at times. Other times, I have done everything in my power and it has not been enough. Antidepressants were my last resort, and they worked. I did have to deal with many ugly side effects, but they were absolutely necessary and I knew that because I had already tried everything else.
If you have more than 5 loved ones, chances are that you will deal with depression first hand. Many people run to their doctor and ask for “miracle drugs” without considering natural alternatives that don’t hold the risks or negative side effects of antidepressant medications. It is our responsibility to know the options available so that when depression hits, we are prepared to assist our loved ones with the best solution to their circumstance. Medications can be effective, but should be used as a last resort due to the availability of healthy alternatives that offer no negative side effects.
Ainsworth, Patricia M.D.. Understanding Depression. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.
Clinical Practice Guidelines. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). 15 Apr. 2002
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Elkins, Rita. Depression and Natural Medicine. Pleasant Grove: Woodland Publishing Inc., 1995.
Prozac fluoxetine hydrochloride. How PROZAC Can Help. 2005. 11 Aug. 2005 >http://www.prozac.com/how_prozac/how_prozac_can_help.jsp?reqNavId=2>.
Psychology Information Online. Side Effects of Antidepressants. 2002. 11 Aug. 2005 .
Psychology Matters. Exercise Helps You’re your Psyche Fit. 2005. American Psychological Association. 10 Aug. 2005. .
Route, Terry LCSW. Personal Interview. 9 Aug. 2005.
Sarah. Personal Interview. 8 Aug. 2005
Wirz, Justice. “Beginning to See the Light.” Archives of General Psychology. 55.10 (1998): 861-862.
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