In Depression

Do We Really Need Anti-Depressants?

We all have times in our lives when bright sunny moods take a backseat to the blues. However, when the blues seem to take permanent residence, it may be time to look at solutions. One of the most popular solutions is to get started on anti-depressants. What is the definition of depression?

What Is Depression?

According to Medical News Today, depression is a medical illness that causes prolonged sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in things that once brought joy.  Some with depression may describe it as having a perpetual feeling of impending doom.

One the other hand not everyone with depression reports feelings of sadness, but rather feelings of emptiness, lifelessness, and being apathetic.  Men seem to express depression differently than women, with feelings of anger, restlessness, and aggression.

Whatever the symptoms, depression is different from normal sadness in that it engulfs your day-to-day life.  It interferes with one’s ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and have fun.

Depression comes in many forms.   Therefore, since not all depression is the same, not all can be treated with anti-depressants.

Mild Depression or Dysthymia:  is a sort of chronic low degree of depression.   Most days a person may feel a little depressed; however, those are brief episodes intermixed with brighter moods.

Major Depression: Is present, mostly in the morning, usually lasts all day and is present almost every day for about two weeks.  Feelings of being slowed down, hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much (hypersomnia/excessive sleeping).

Bipolar Depression:   When a person experiences periods of depression and then periods of extreme happiness or irritability.

Postpartum Depression: This depression occurs amongst 85 percent of new mothers. Moms with this type of depression suffer from fatigue, feelings of loneliness, fears of hurting the baby and even feelings of being emotionally disconnected from the baby.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Depression that starts in the fall, continues in the winter months and lifts in the spring and summer months.  It occurs the same time each year.

What Is an Anti-Depressant?

According to Medical News Today, anti-depressants are a type of psychiatric medication designed to help relieve feelings and symptoms of depression.  They do this by fixing chemical imbalances of the neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for mood and behavior.  Anti-depressants were in existence since the 1950s. Over the past twenty years anti-depressant use has grown and is used for various conditions one would not suspect would be helped by this type of drug.  Anti-depressants are used for more than depressive conditions such as anxiety disorders and social anxiety disorders.  In addition, anti-depressants are used for a long list of woes, including, but not limited to:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Agitation
  • Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD)
  • Childhood Bedwetting
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Manic depressive disorders
  • Depression
  • Major depressive disorder

Social anxiety disorder

  • Binge eating disorder
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Chronic urticaria (hives)
  • Hot flashes
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain
  • Hyperhidrosis–sweating too much
  • Ruritus (itching)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Migraines
  • Snoring—this one may be the most surprising.

It is true that anti-depressants can help some people, particularly those with major depression, a great deal.  However, anti-depressants are not for everyone.  A 2010 study reported minimal to nonexistent benefits for those suffering from mild to moderate depression. However, when used to treat major depression the results were far more promising.

Pros and Cons of Taking Anti-Depressants

The obvious benefit of taking anti-depressants is the possible relief of depressive symptoms, as listed below. Once the symptoms are lifted one can get back to living their lives. Unfortunately, anti-depressants do not always work for everyone.  More disconcerting is that they often have mild to severe side effects.  Some of these side effects can be quite surprising and may appear just as unpleasing as the symptoms of depression.

  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety—strange side effect for anti-depression pills
  • Sexual dysfunction—including infertility in some cases
  • Loss of appetite or weight gain
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Panic attacks—another strange side effect of taking an anti-depressant
  • Increased risk of bleeding disorders, gastrointestinal bleeding, bruising and nosebleeds
  • Increased sweating

Anti-Depression Medication and Sexual Problems, Weight Gain and Suicidal Thoughts

Loss of libido and sexual dysfunction are unfortunately  two of the more common, but least talked about side effects of taking anti-depressants. According to Bradley N. Gaynes, MD, MPH,  this complaint is made by half  of the people who use anti-depressants. According to Dr. Gaynes one way to fix this problem is by either adding a medication for erectile dysfunction or by switching anti-depressants. Of course, such decisions should never be made without first discussing it with one’s physician.  Suddenly stopping medications may cause severe withdrawal.

Yet another less talked about side effect of  taking anti-depressants is weight gain.  Dr. Gaynes warns to be careful not to blame all of the weight gain on anti-depressants.  Sometimes changes in weight can be attributed to other reasons such as one’s attitudes and behaviors toward food.

Here are some medical studies that have linked long-term use of anti-depression drugs to weight gain and related illness such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

The drug Wellbutrin which  increases serotonin and dopamine chemicals in the brain may be less likely to cause weight gain than the drugs Celexa, Zoloft, and Paxil which are SSRI reuptake inhibitors.

Suicidal Thoughts is the scariest side effect of taking antidepressants. In recent years the  Food and Drug Administration ordered manufacturers of anti-depressants to display warning messages on package inserts. These warnings say that adults, adolescents, and childrsuicidal thoughts is very serious and should not be dealt with alone. en with major depression or a psychological disorder who take anti-depressants may be at risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior particularly in the first month of treatment.  However, the risk decreases in older adults over the age of 65.

It is important to mention that having suicidal thoughts is very serious and should not be dealt with alone. Seek medical attention if such thoughts arise, especially when taking anti-depression meds.

The important thing to remember is that many people who seek treatment for depression do get better.  It may take time and some effort, perhaps experimenting (under the guidance of one’s physician) with different drugs until the right one is found.

Those with mild depression can achieve relief through natural means.  Brain chemistry is largely affected by environmental and emotional stress.  Today, our busy adrenaline fueled lifestyles can and do lead to increased cortisol levels.  If stress reduction techniques are not undertaken, over time elevated cortisol levels can lead to anxiety and depression.

Recent research says that Vitamin D is very important to  brain chemistry and to boosting mood. This vitamin is great for soothing sufferers of seasonal anxiety disorder because of the connection between vitamin D, supplied sunlight, and mood by encouraging normal neurotransmitter function of the brain.

Vitamin D is also linked to the brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep.  Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep is also important for proper brain function.

Here are some natural anti-depressants:

  • Talk therapy/counseling—sometimes one may choose to seek talk therapy as well as medication for treating depression
  • Amino acids such as SAM-e , 5-hydroxytryptophan, GABA
  • Acupuncture
  • Natural herbs that have been used for many years to treat depression. St. John’s wort, passionflower and valerian to name a few
  • Ayurveda, aromatherapy
  • Take a good multivitamin, mulitmineral supplement along with omega-3 fatty acids rich in DHA and EPA

Full-spectrum light therapy is especially  useful for alleviating the symptoms of major depression, bipolar, postpartum and seasonal affective disorder

  • Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping,–this involves using the fingers to tap on the body’s meridian points to relieve not only depression, but  also anxiety.
  • Consume a low glycemic-load diet, particularly a Mediterranean-style diet.
  •  Make sure your Vitamin D levels are at an adequate level.  Have this level tested regularly.
  • Set a regular bedtime and stick to it.  Try to get at least  8 hours of sleep. Go to bed no later than  10:00pm.
  • Exercise  at least 4–6 times a week for 30–60 minutes. Exercise raises endorphin levels, which is a natural mood enhancer.
  • Speaking of exercise, try doing yoga at least three times weekly. Turns out this much yoga can be just as effective as taking anti-depressants.
  • Avoid alcohol as well as other recreational drugs.
  • Consider talking to your doctor regarding any of the alternatives discussed.

Whether it’s through medication or through natural means.  Whether it is mild, moderate or clinical, the point remains that depression is a condition that can be treated and overcome.  Not everyone who seeks help will find it in the same place or through the same methods; however, with determination and a bit of patience anyone seeking a solution will most likely find one.

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