Are Women Being Over-Medicated For Depression?

By Dominica

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Last Updated: May 18, 2021

I can get emotional. It’s true.

Not just me, either. Many women get emotional and we can simply be moody.  Chalk it up to hormone fluctuations, unexpected situations, or the fact that many of us feel this unending nagging pressure to be the perfect mom, spouse, partner, friend, worker, and so on.

Research shows that women in general tend to be more adept at feeling their emotions and being led by them. It’s not always a bad thing. Emotions are our guidance system. They have messages for us. 

But what about women who truly suffer from moderate to severe depression?

Statistics report that 1 in 10 Americans take antidepressants to combat depression. In addition, 25 percent of women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressant medication, which is a greater percentage than any other group.

This is my age bracket. You’d think by mid-life, we’d have enough know-how and wisdom to rise above life’s challenges, to have learned how to experience true joy. Speaking for myself, this hasn’t been the case. Symptoms of depression continue to come and go.

Although medication can be beneficial for someone who is clinically depressed, many women are being wrongly diagnosed. 

In fact, according to a study several years ago published in the Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics Journal, almost two-thirds of the 5,000 patients sampled were diagnosed as clinically depressed, yet they did not meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (D.S.M.) criteria.

In addition, antidepressant drugs are supposed to be short-term aids to reduce or eliminate symptoms, yet many women end up on them for decades or lifetimes.

Are we overmedicating?

Showing Emotions Can Be Empowering

I understand suffering with depression.  In fact, most of my life I simmered on depression and struggled with anxiety. I didn’t take medication for or go to counseling. I just went day to day wearing masks, pretending that everything was alright. I was accustomed to showing the world my "perfection" persona.

But over time, my shadow-side got HEAVY.  I’d bought into the fallacy that accomplished women don’t show negative emotions. Hold it together. Stiffen the upper lip.

I learned at an early age to stuff, repress, and suppress negative emotions into my shadow-side. Defense mechanisms that helped me cope with a home where addiction and mental health issues abounded. Where I felt unseen and unheard. 

I disconnected from my emotional body, feeling quite numb and spaced out. I continued to do so until a divorce in my mid-30's. This was the first time in my life the emotional dam busted wide open, leaving me to contend with waves of crashing emotions I'd stuffed since I was born.

Emotional Mayhem Broke Loose

I had no idea how to deal with it, but it was then that I started an inner journey toward tending to some childhood wounds and faulty defense mechanisms.

It was then I started to peel back some layers, peek into my shadow bag, and start journeying toward spiritual awakening. I began learning about expressing authentic emotions, or being raw and real.

Now I could have immediately gotten on anti-depressant medications, but there was something in me that wanted to try to manage and/or overcome these symptoms more naturally.

The Pressure To Medicate

Many women find relief through medication. I’m not discounting that one bit. In fact, I know women who are happier on meds and I’m happy for them. I know people who just can't function well without anti-anxiety meds.

What I am concerned about is that many women will walk into their doctor’s office and immediately state that they want to go on such medications and the doctor will oblige without much of a discussion. They won't even do a referral to a psychologist. They'll simply write a script. 

In the long run, this won’t help. It only addresses the symptoms and not the root cause.

Maybe We’re Sad Because Of Our Lifestyle

When my emotional dam broke, I had no idea how to process the tidal wave of emotions.  I tried to repress and stuff them back down and I just couldn’t.  For the first time in my life I was out of control. 

Sure, it was because I was going through a life crisis. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or make sense of much at all.  I could have numbed out with meds and just kept rushing through life with my masks on.  But I vowed to try more natural and alternative ways to treat the depression so that I could overcome it; not just manage it. I didn't want to put a Band-Aid on gaping wounds.

Maybe many of us struggle with so many heavy emotions because of the lifestyles we lead.

We strive for excellence, we work hard (bordering on workaholism), we wear masks, we distract, ignore, rush around, jump from one lover to another, neglect sleep and nutritious foods, and many women self-medicate with alcohol.

We don't get quiet, go within, or stare our shadows down. We don’t want to feel and heal the past or deal with the hurt from the trauma.

We run from pain.

I think that the world needs more people who will embrace their emotional nature, take some time and effort to contend with an unbalance or their dark night of their soul in natural, spiritual, and alternative ways. Embrace vulnerability and say, "I'm tired and I can't stand this way of life anymore. I can't even stand myself. I just can't go on with this façade any longer."

It's alright to express your emotions. It’s also alright to admit if you need some support via medication. But perhaps we could choose that as a last resort. There are a number of alternatives to anti-depression medication, and some women might find it useful to try these alternative methods. Just like with any mental condition, stress, anxiety, and depression are usually solved on a trial-and-error basis.

Counseling. For example, group therapy or one-to-one counseling can provide someone with the support they need just by talking through the problems they face in life. While some medication can alter brain chemistry or come with a lot of side effects, good old-fashioned conversation can prove to be the solution that many patients are looking for, especially when they have nowhere else to turn. 

Meditation. Meditation has proven to be a wonderful technique to help decrease anxiety and/or depressive symptoms. 

Fitness. Other medical professionals might suggest exercise as a natural way to beat the blues, especially cardio-vascular or resistance training, which can help to release endorphins in the brain (known as the body’s “feel good” chemical).

Making healthy changes to your diet can also play a crucial role in how you feel, especially if you opt for natural whole foods instead of processed meals or junk food.

Religion or spirituality. Many men and women have found healing via religion or spirituality. I can vouch for the validity of belief in a higher power helping to process and heal quite a bit of heavy emotions.

Women, it’s alright to feel your feelings. All of them, but if you’re struggling consistently with depression, know that you have a range of options.  We don’t have to run straight for medication, but more so as a last resort.

Getting through depression is a journey, and I’m fully confident that we can make informed decisions about treatment and help one another out along the way.  

 

Photo by Matteo Badini on Unsplash

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2 comments on “Are Women Being Over-Medicated For Depression?”

  1. Sorry but you are doing a HUGE disservice for the large number of people for whom medication is not an option, but a necessity. I did not choose to go on anti-depressants. I was getting counselling (still am). I was exercising. I was also still drowning in my depression. I agree emotions are fine to express, but when thoughts of suicide are rampant, when getting out of bed takes so much energy I can’t brush my teeth, when the thought of having to do any task is overwhelming - I NEEDED anti-depressants. My hope is it is not a lifelong need, but without them I am quite certain I would have seriously harmed or killed myself. Depression is a chemical imbalance and for many of us, the only safe and effective option is carefully prescribed and monitored medication.
    Yes the occasional sad day may not warrant medication but the persistent and ongoing suffering of depression often does. And no one should be shamed for needing it. Your careless “many women find relief from medication” to then go on to say why it is wrong is horrible. Would you tell a cancer patient to trust in exercise and diet instead of life saving medication? Depression is as valid a medical illness as cancer. Don’t tell people not to seek proper treatment when they need it.

  2. Thank you for raising this issue. It is an important one. As a therapist, and someone who used to suffer deep depression for many years, I think it is important not to overlook the fact that for many people talk therapy (counselling) is not sufficient to bring about healing. Deep emotional issues are best addressed with therapies that include body awareness, and which allow emotional release and integration. This allows the body to re-set its baseline and brings about the physiological changes as well as the psychological ones that are needed. Somatic experiencing is one such therapy, so is TRE. EFT or TTT (Trauma Tapping Technique is also very helpful. Often a multifaceted approach works best, which includes nutrition/supplementation, self-care practices, and reframing of worldview (such as you are doing on this website). With these supports, even deep issues can be healed, though it can take time.

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