If you’re looking for a direct answer anywhere other than the mirror—you’re looking in the wrong direction. BUT I will give you my opinion, as someone who has dealt with depressive and anxious symptoms, and has worked in the medical industry for over 20 years.
First of all—this is NOT medical advice. Consult with your doctor for what is best for you.
Secondly, I’ve never taken prescription medications for depression or anxiety.
So, full disclaimer on all that, this is where I stand.
My answer is absolutely, without a doubt—MAYBE.
If you were wishing for an absolute clear yes or no—there will never be one.
When you look at the history of pharmaceutical medications for the treatment of depression, they started with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) in the 1950s and then simple selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac) shortly thereafter. Since then there have been many, many more successors like Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro (all brand names) with similar actions and results, all while trying to minimize side effects and maximize results.
These medications, when first prescribed, increased people’s ability to function that had previously been severely chronically depressed and unable to complete daily tasks. Psychologists and psychiatrists saw people start being able to make it to all their appointments, grocery shop and return to their lives. Patients who once were so severely depressed they rarely left the house and would spiral downward and become suicidal were now up and moving. People they felt like they couldn’t help were getting better. This was like a miracle.
As the ability to affect change in depression progressed and medications advanced more problems came to light. There were and are MANY side effects like weight gain (significant), sexual dysfunction, change in appetite, change in sleep or sometimes increase suicidal ideations and many more. BUT these were only for some people. There were people with no improvements and also people who got their lives back.
For the people who had the best outcomes, some of them stopped going to talk therapy because they felt so much better. This is ONE of the major problems with the use of antidepressants.
They change your physiology, but that’s it.
They don’t undo your underlying traumas and unresolved issues. These might be hidden for a brief time when you have a new rush of serotonin flooding your brain, but they do not disappear. The original idea behind these medications was so that the people SO depressed that they couldn’t even make it to therapy and therefore spiraled downward and often became suicidal—could return to therapy regularly and continue to heal.
And throughout time as pharmacology has become western medicine’s primary defense against ALL things deemed pathologic—it’s the first go-to for doctors when they assume the diagnosis as depression. There’s no hesitation in prescribing.
When you go to a doctor with a complaint—a doctor likes to have an answer. There’s not a doctor out there that feels competent when a patient comes in with a complaint and they have nothing to offer—no answers. So, now when a person has any kind of vague, unexplainable symptoms—they prescribe. It’s the fastest, easiest answer for them. If you take away pharmacology and make doctors think and test and inquire again, we would have a very different medical system.
This is not just the doctor’s fault. It’s the insurance companies—it’s the whole system—but that’s a different article.
So, my reasoning behind what I believe about psych medications is with all the above information in mind.
I believe antidepressants are one tiny piece of the healing puzzle—for some people.
If you are suffering so severely that you are hopeless and can not function—why not try an antidepressant? See if your symptoms improve enough so that you can get to dealing with the other aspects of your depression. Start the medication, go to therapy, change your diet, get some physical activity. If medication helps you do these things then I am very much in favor of it.
I am NOT in favor of using pharmaceuticals as THE ANSWER.
Because it’s not. It will never—alone-cure your depression. Even if it seems to for a while, it usually fades. As your body adjusts to the new levels of serotonin, epinephrine or norepinephrine (depending on the medication you’re taking) it will again fall into the old patterns. You will go back to your doctor and ask for a higher dose or they have now made adjunctive medications to help synergistically improve the affects of the first medication. Ever heard of Abilify? This is one of the adjunctive medications (haven’t we all heard their commercials? They run incessantly—should be a crime).
And the cycle will repeat. IT’S NOT THE ONLY ANSWER. It’s one small piece of the puzzle.
And everyone is different; there are some people who start a SSRI medication and feel better and do the work to continue to improve their mental health. Due to their specific physiology they will forever feel better with those medications in their system. They are not ever 100% symptom free, but the medication keeps them at a different baseline than if they were to continue without it. I am in favor of this usage of these medications in this way.
Everyone is going to react differently to these medications. It is a different set of DNA, different circumstances, different external support, different time of life—this is a very individualized choice.
Sometimes we reach for medication because we don’t want to feel the pain and the pain is the route to true healing. We can not medicate our way out of life. Life happens and we need to feel it.
Medication is another tool in your toolbox. It’s just not your only tool. It can’t be.
Anti-anxiety medications are another beast. For 2 reasons:
- They are typically benzodiazepines—which are HIGHLY addictive and a tolerance is built quickly. So you need higher and higher doses to get the effect you originally had.
- They are intended to be used “as needed” which is great for a person approaching a panic attack or severe symptoms—this is a great tool. But the reflex to “pop a pill” every time life feels scary or hard becomes all too easy.
For these 2 reasons I think they’re not the best answer. They can be, like I said, a tool in your toolbox for severe symptoms and extreme situations. Or maybe for a period of time while you’re resolving some trauma (with a therapist) or grieving a loss.
They are not a great long-term answer. Anxiety can be managed when the underlying issues are processed and worked through. You have to do the work or you risk being addicted to medications for your life. Benzodiazepines have so many side effects similar to being addicted to alcohol. You’re not quite you when you’re on them. You’re not showing up with all your life force and vitality.
Pharmaceuticals were meant to be a small part of the healing process—NOT THE ONLY ANSWER. Today the pharmaceutical companies are so rich they control our political leaders. Their money is so out of control because we are all so heavily dependent on them.
Yes we need medicine to heal the sick, to fight cancer, to treat infections and save lives. But we can take care of our bodies the best we can, tend to the healing of our minds, and trust that our bodies are designed to thrive and fight and heal.
So, are anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications the right answer? Sometimes.