Are Antidepressants An Expensive Failure?

By Dr. Ryan Sousley and Dr. Ben Lerner

Are you one of the millions of Americans fighting depression? Reconsider the antidepressant route and try natural alternatives instead. Below we’ll discuss some of your options.

Is “science” making progress in the fight against depression?  The numbers say “No.”  Depression is ten times worse over the last four decades and has gone from a mean age of 29.6 to 14.5!

Antidepressants have become one of the most heavily prescribed classes of medication in the United States over the past decade. Along with this massive increase in psychotropic prescription drug use is an unsurpassed incidence of people with depression. Despite the 230 million prescriptions given for antidepressants each year, and an incredibly profitable 10 billion dollars in sales for this class of pharmaceutical drug, 1 out of 10 Americans is currently depressed.

The mechanism of depression has been theorized two different ways. Either someone is depressed due to emotional trauma or stress, like in the case of the death of a loved one or a divorce, or due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, (specifically due to lowered levels of serotonin).

Although there are rare psychiatric cases in which chemical intervention may be necessary to palliate someone’s condition, research studies have found on multiple occasions that antidepressants do not provide any clinical benefit for mild to moderate depression when compared to a placebo (a sugar pill).[1. Fournier, J. et al. Antidepressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity.  Journal of the American Medical Association. 2010, 303(1): 47-53.]  And even in cases of severe depression where medication is indicated, long-term studies are now showing that although patients are able to recover from their depressed state quickly, they tend to relapse more frequently, and end up in a chronically depressed state.

In fact, a recent study showed that people who take an antidepressant are far more likely to suffer a recurring bout of depression than someone who decides on a non-drug approach. Taking a drug almost doubles your risk of suffering a relapse, say researchers from McMaster University. This was after studying a range of studies that monitored the effectiveness of antidepressants and placebos, or sugar pills, on groups of patients with major depression.  The researchers believe the drugs interfere with the brain’s self-regulatory processes in coping with depression, and that it over-overcompensates when the drug treatment stops, triggering another depressive episode.[2. Frontiers in Psychology, 2011; 2; doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00159)]

Aside from the negligible benefit of antidepressant medications, the side effects alone are enough to make you reconsider. Antidepressant drug use has been linked to a multitude of things including: increased weight gain, increased risk of cardiovascular problems, double the risk of an autistic child when taken by a pregnant mother, and most significantly suicidal and/or violent thoughts or behaviors.

Mentally, our brains are programmed to go through a specific sequence of emotional states following emotional trauma or stress. Grieving and mourning are completely natural and necessary states that your brain processes through in order to move past events and work through realities of life. This explains why people that are temporarily relieved of their depression by antidepressant medication eventually end up chronically depressed. Their brain never went through the appropriate process necessary to establish peace with the situation.

Fortunately there are natural ways to increase your brain’s serotonin levels, and curtail your mind into a positive state:

  1. Exercise regularly – Exercise has been shown to increase the endorphins in your brain that promote happiness and fulfillment.
  2. Address your pain – Sharing your stress or situation with a trusted friend or trained professional will help give you perspective and allow you to share the burden with someone else who can relate to you and help you cope.
  3. Eat a healthy diet – Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruit and omega 3 fats and avoiding sugars and grains will allow your insulin and leptin levels to normalize, resulting in reduced inflammation, promote healthy brain function and decreased depression.
  4. Do something for someone else – Studies have shown that people who volunteer regularly and/or give generously to others, report a higher sense of purpose and self-value.
  5. Get plenty of vitamin D – Research has shown that people who don’t get adequate amounts of vitamin D are up to 11 times more likely to be depressed. The average person needs 30 minutes of sunlight exposure to 40% of their skin exposed between the hours of 11am and 3pm. Or 5000 IU of a quality vitamin D3 supplement.