Women & Antidepressants: A Life-Sentence?

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This post is not for or against anti-depressants! In Functional Medicine we strive to use the safest and most effective treatment to help women feel better while we explore underlying causes of health concerns. In this post we examine the high numbers of women who get “stuck” on anti-depressants for years or decades, without proper evaluation and care.

Anxiety, depression, mental health, anti-depressants

Anti-depressants and women

If you’re a woman in America, and you talked to her doctor about mood swings, period problems, anxiety, depression, sadness, or pain, then it’s highly likely you were offered an anti-depressant as the “solution.” These prescriptions are widespread for women and easy to obtain. 79% of the time, primary care doctors write these prescriptions, rather than a mental health specialist. That means you don’t get a comprehensive mental health evaluation that examines your unique situation. You don’t get an expert’s differential diagnosis (we all have different biological and emotional stories behind mental health struggles). You aren’t offered the latest well-researched non-drug treatments. (According to research, many non-drug approaches work as well as or better than anti-depressants.)

If you’re like me and the majority of women I work with, you may fill the prescription with trepidation, confusion, and despair. Perhaps you feel desperate and don’t have the time, resources, or wherewithal to explore other options. You may get “stuck” on your prescriptions for long periods of time, with no game plan for how long to take it or how to go off it. When you need to switch doctors due to health coverage changes or a move, your new doctor often continues the prescription without a re-evaluation.

Years and even decades can go by without mental health care or a proper evaluation. In fact, less than 1/3 of women on anti-depressants receive mental health care. Meanwhile, you may notice symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction. It may not occur to you that these are common side effects of anti-depressant medications.

If this is your story…

You’re not alone. Countless other women share your story. Anti-depressant use is widespread for American women and continues to climb in numbers every year. Women use antidepressants 2.5 times more often than men.17% of women over age 18 use an anti-depressant, 23% of women aged 40-59 are on one, and the number reaches 24% for women over 60. If you’re an American woman over 60, there’s a 1 in 4 chance you’re on at least one anti-depressant. These are 2018 statistics and these percentages continue to climb.

If this is your story, you may have stopped your medication cold-turkey or very quickly. Abrupt discontinuation can bring about weeks or months of horrible symptoms, including headaches, anxiety, insomnia, vivid dreams, dizziness, tiredness, irritability, flu-like symptoms, nausea, electric shock sensations, and a return of depression. People should wean slowly and carefully off these medications.

How to rewrite this story

It’s time to rewrite this all-too-common disempowered story. Again, this post is not anti-medication. I personally have been there. I chose to use anti-depressants at one time. It was the right decision. And then I too became disempowered with a lack of re-evaluation and a plan for when and how to go off meds. I had to fight for these, and I am a provider. I am passionate about rewriting this story into an empowered version, for all women.

If you are offered an anti-depressant, ask the questions below. You have the right to ask these questions when considering a medication that alters your brain chemistry. These also apply if you’re questioning your current prescription.

If a primary care provider is the prescriber, ask:

“This is a serious prescription to consider. Can you refer me to a mental health specialist who can provide a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan for my condition, including non-drug treatment options if warranted?” Not every woman has access to a mental health provider, at least at the onset of a mental health issue. Be persistent about requesting this care.

Ask any type of prescriber (both primary care and specialists):

  • How long should I take this medication?
  • How often should I be re-evaluated?
  • What non-drug options can I try that have good clinical research behind them?
  • Are there side effects that may occur, and what should I do to mitigate them?
  • What is the plan for weaning off when it’s time? Can I go slowly?
  • What is my diagnosis for this medication?
  • Would any type of counseling or therapy help this condition? Can you make a referral?

Asking these questions and getting sound and clear answers is the first step to an empowered decision about an anti-depressant prescription. Even if you use a prescription, these still apply, especially if you don’t want to get stuck on it for years and decades unnecessarily.

Want nonjudgmental help working through this process? Please reach out, we are here to support you. ❤️

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