Does Depression Always Require Taking Dangerous Prescription Drugs?

Prolonged periods of depression or constantly feeling like you’re sad every day impacts every avenue of your life; in fact, it can even impact your physical health. The connection between your emotions and your health is more powerful than you may think – whether temporary or long-term, depression can manifest in physical pain, illness, or chronic conditions. And all of these can take a toll on even more areas of your life, from hobbies and recreational activities to your social life and career.

Why Prescription Medications Don’t Work

Most people who experience depression, sadness or a roller coaster ride of emotions are often referred to a mental health professional, who usually prescribes one or more anti-depressants. Because they’re so commonly prescribed and heavily advertised, you’ll recognize some of the names: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Cymbalta, and many others. These powerful, sometimes addictive medications can cause dangerous side effects like attempts/thoughts of suicide, heart problems, birth defects, violent/aggressive behavior, anxiety, delusional thinking and more including, ironically, worsening depression.

If you experience any of these side effects, you can’t just stop taking the medication, you need to be weaned off it under the supervision of your doctor, and sometimes it takes more than one attempt. Unfortunately, some doctors prescribe another medication to counteract the effects of the first one, and this is how the vicious cycle begins of escalating symptoms causing an increased number of prescription drugs that in turn cause new sets of symptoms. And on and on it goes.

The upshot is that these medications don’t fix what’s really causing the problem, they only mask the symptoms, and sometimes only for a limited time. At that point the dosage may be increased or a new medication may be added.

Finding the Root Cause

It’s usually at the point where a patient is taking too many medications and suffering too many ill effects that they come to me. Rather than covering up symptoms with medications, I look for the root cause, which is neurological and/or inflammation based. Depression is a symptom of an underlying problem, not a final diagnosis that points directly to the frontal lobe of the brain – it’s either unhealthy or not firing properly. This occurs due to inflammation, which can be caused by a number of different things, from blood sugar levels to food sensitivities.

“Medications for depression don’t fix the root cause of the problem.”

Mental health professionals usually consider the cause of depression to be chemical imbalances, and the medications they prescribe are chemicals that maneuver the brain’s neurotransmitters. Because these drugs don’t address the fundamental reason for depression, they’re constantly being altered, changed, or added to.

“It’s All in Your Head”

What I see a lot in my practice is that when people with chronic illness (particularly hormonal imbalances and thyroid issues) tell their doctors that they’re experiencing depression, they’re told “it’s all in your head.” They’re then prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications in an attempt to alleviate depression, anxiety or mood swings.

But it doesn’t stop there. A patient, who had most of her thyroid removed many years ago, recently told me that she’s been taking a thyroid medication for some time, but it’s no longer working as it had. When she told her doctor this, he dismissed what she was experiencing, saying, “That can’t be right. It must be in your head.” Essentially, he was telling her that both the changes she experienced and her perception of them was nothing more than psychological.

It’s easy to understand how depression can really take hold after hearing something like this; if the patient isn’t already depressed, they can become depressed because they feel trapped, with nowhere to turn to for help and no hope of improvement.

These aren’t unusual stories. I hear the same thing all the time – doctors telling their patients that they’re crazy rather than taking the time and effort to look deeper, beyond the symptom, for the actual cause of the problem.

In my opinion, no patient’s complaints should be ignored or dismissed; one of the most important things a doctor can do is listen carefully to his patients. By performing a comprehensive evaluation of each person’s case, from their past health history to their current symptoms and medications along with other considerations and tests, medications can be reduced or eliminated and the real cause of depression can be treated.

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For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.