The benefits and drawbacks of antidepressant medications have been the source of debate for decades. Some believe that the benefits of antidepressants outweigh the associated costs, while others would rather cease production on psychiatric drugs entirely. In May 2015, two international researchers debated their polarizing views on the use of prescription drugs for the treatment of mental health disorders in The BMJ, a prominent medical journal, reigniting the debate in the United States.
Researcher Peter C. Gotzsche of Denmark suggests in the debate that all forms of psychiatric drugs, including antidepressants, be discontinued. He argues, “Psychiatric drugs are responsible for the deaths of more than half a million people aged 65 and older each year in the Western world.” Gotzsche uses the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions associated with antidepressants to support his claims. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro, are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants today. SSRIs received a black box warning, the Food and Drug Administration’s highest level of warning to consumers, in October 2004 regarding agitation, hostility and suicidal thoughts as potential side effects.
Though the potential risks associated with antidepressant usage are valid, the symptoms and side effects of severe depression can pose even greater risks to an individual’s mental and physical health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals struggling with depression are at greater risk for heart disease than the general population and are more likely to die following a heart attack. The exact reasons are unknown, but specialists believe a contributing factor is the direct effect depression has on overall physical health, leading to the development of other medical conditions and exacerbating those that already exist. Similarly, Harvard Medical School reports there is a 15 percent lifetime suicide rate for individuals with severe depression. Allan H. Young, the researcher from London who opposed Gotzsche in the debate, states, “More than a fifth of all health related disability is caused by mental… health [issues], studies suggest, and people with poor mental health often have poor physical health and poorer (long term) outcomes.”
The public continues to receive conflicting information on antidepressants and other psychiatric medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in 10 individuals in the United States over the age of 12 takes antidepressants. This includes those who have been prescribed antidepressants off-label for other medical conditions the drugs have been proven to help, such as migraines or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Dr. Ben Weinstein, professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, suggests that individuals take SSRIs with caution for only as long as they are needed, while noting that it can be difficult for medicated individuals and their prescribing psychiatrists to know when it is time to stop using prescription drugs that are helping with symptoms of depression. However, as Dr. Weinstein states, “The risk of severe depression is higher than the risk of using medications appropriately.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer