Our nationwide addiction to antidepressants has put us on a slippery slope.
Record numbers of people are turning to “happy pills” to lift their spirits – in England alone the number of prescriptions has almost doubled in the last decade, from 29 million to 57 million.
It seems the UK is following the US in our passion for pills – in the belief that they are the best way to solve anxiety and depression. But there is increasing evidence to suggest otherwise.
Earlier this year, a review for the Medical Journal of Australia showed that antidepressants alone aren’t effective in 40% of patients.
1 in 11 British adults take antidepressants.
For most the pills are a lifeline, but for about 1 in 100 they can cause severe side-effects. pic.twitter.com/21YkhzrbkR
— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) October 19, 2016
Whether they work or not, there’s no disputing that their side effects are extremely grim. A few days ago a group of former antidepressants appeared in the British Parliament to argue that the drugs have ruined their lives.
Their symptoms range from disorientation to digestive problems to seizures – likely worse than whatever convinced a doctor to prescribe antidepressants at all.
But keep prescribing them, they will. As a society we have simplified mental health and the brain.
Many think of mood disorders as singular things, like a broken leg, with a simple solution. The truth is that we’re an enormously varied species; between individuals, emotional illness and emotions in general look different. Antidepressants are a doomed “one size fits all” approach.
Yes, for those really struggling with mental illnesses, antidepressants can knock the worst of it on the head.
But for others, the miserable side effects are simply not worth it when they could improve through non-pharmacological methods. Antidepressant users do not also realise they are signing up to a withdrawal process when they commence treatment, which is itself horrific and can take years to achieve.
— NiC (@donbray14) October 18, 2016
What’s most concerning is the trend for young people to take antidepressants, as they are prone to contemplating suicide as a result.
From 2005 to 2012, there was a 54% increase in the number of children prescribed such pills in the UK.
During my time working at an American summer camp, I saw many children on medication and was startled by the difference – they were noticeably sluggish, and often away with the fairies.
For some, antidepressants will really be useful – and could make the difference between life or death. But they are being dished out far too easily.
The majority of people would be better off accepting that sadness and anxiety are actually healthy in moderate doses – we wouldn’t be human without them.
They can also be managed through simple solutions: exercising more, relaxing, yoga and talking to people – whether therapists or friends.
Sometimes the way we feel reflects our situation; in a country where employment prospects are pretty rubbish for the young, it’s not such a surprise many feel down in the dumps.
But we can expect more and more antidepressants be popped out over the next few years.
It’s worrying – society needs more help with mental health, but that doesn’t have to be pharmacological. The evidence is mounting, and increasingly stark – the drugs don’t always work, and they may just make you worse.