Popping pills is not the answer to depression
A clinical review published in the Lancet has found that, of the leading 14 antidepressant medications, Prozac is the only medication that battles symptoms of major depression in young people more effectively than placebo pills – the rest were said to have no effect on symptoms while bearing serious side effects.
This should come as no surprise. Anyone who has taken antidepressants will be familiar with the ‘zombie effect’ – pills make you drowsy, disassociated and sluggish. The feelings that cause depression aren’t targeted and alleviated. Instead, antidepressants imprecisely assault every conceivable emotion – numbing both highs and lows. For major depressives, this can help. But for young people – whose only ailment is that of youthful ennui – this is extremely worrying.
The expansion of mental-health diagnoses in recent years has led to the medicalisation of adolescent angst. But the majority of young people’s anxieties are often circumstantial, rather than pathological. Driven by the influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) framework, healthy kids are being told by their doctors that drugs will solve their mythical ‘chemical imbalance’. Young people are being pushed towards psychiatric labels in an effort to cure mere juvenile malaise.
No one suffering from major depression has ever, whether through chemical treatments, counselling or anything else, suddenly awoken free from their prior condition. However, depressives can train themselves to regulate stimuli and subsequent emotions. This is far more difficult than swallowing a happy pill and hoping for the best, but results are often more lasting. Compared with alternative treatments, antidepressants are ineffective at helping those who are genuinely mentally ill, let alone healthy kids who are just going through a rough patch.
Alternative treatments – from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to simply hitting the gym – have been shown to battle childhood and adolescent depression far more effectively than medication. Yet, thanks to the incorporation of healthy kids into the anxiety-disorder cluster, waiting lists stretch months into the future, and better days seem out of reach to those who are genuinely in need of help. Worse still, greater accessibility to chemical solutions has created a generation of self-diagnosed depressives who are incapable of facing their problems.
We should encourage young people to deal with their problems as best they can, and treat the prescription of antidepressants as a last resort. Stretching the definitions of mental-health disorders stops those who are really ill from receiving fast treatment, and teaches the rest of us to see difficult emotions as alien and unmanageable.
Aidan Lonergan is a spiked intern.
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