When you have a cold, there’s Nyquil. If you have a stomachache, there’s Pepto Bismol and if you have a toothache, there’s Orajel. No matter what ailment you’re suffering from there seems to be a magical elixir, and in the past few years, antidepressants have become the face of relief for conditions such as depression and anxiety. But what if these disorders are being over diagnosed making these potentially dangerous medications unnecessary?
The Centers for Disease Control released a study that concluded that antidepressants were the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States in 2005 with 118 million out of 2.4 billion prescriptions being antidepressants. Alarmingly, Dr. Kelly Posner, an assistant professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, says statistics show that 25 percent of adults will have major depressive episodes throughout the course of their lifetime. Even more startling, a study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine found that 25 to 50 percent of college students across the nation who decide to go to counseling are on antidepressants beforehand.
It cannot be denied that a vast amount of people on antidepressants are greatly helped from these medications, for some they really do make the difference between life and death, but what about the rest of us? Lately, it seems like all you have to do is walk into any physician’s office and tell him or her that you’re feeling down and—BAM—they will refer you to a psychiatrist who will load you up with pills to erase your worries. Seems too good to be true? Well, it’s not. I’ve gone through this experience personally, and sometimes it’s even easier than that. Primary doctors even prescribe antidepressants, no questions asked. For other medical conditions, getting the right medications can be a lengthy and carefully considered process. With antidepressants, I feel this is not the case.
To prove this point, all I have to do is reach into my own personal experiences. After being off antidepressants for years due to adverse effects and lack of solving my sadness, I consulted a psychiatrist last fall. Within the first 20 minutes of the doctor meeting me, he was convinced I had generalized anxiety disorder. When I raised an eyebrow to his sudden diagnosis, he assured me that he was right 99.9 percent of the time the first time he diagnosed someone. I made the feeble-minded mistake of trusting him and I too got loaded up on these so-called “happy” pills. He had to up my dosage four times and still the medication ceased to work. When I confronted him about it and asked if he could have been wrong about my “illness” he insisted he was positive I had generalized anxiety disorder. Today I am seeing a counselor and no longer taking any medications. My new counselor’s diagnosis? I don’t have GAD, nor do I have any other mental disorder.
Unfortunately, I’m not alone. Not only do I have personal friends who were misdiagnosed and given unnecessary antidepressant medications, but thousands of people across the country are overprescribed as well. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry released information in 2011 stating that one-fourth of Americans on antidepressants were never diagnosed with conditions that would warrant taking them in the first place. There may not be blood tests or brain scans to prove a patient has bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses, but the bottom line is that doctors need to take the time to properly evaluate someone’s symptoms before giving them such a risky medication. These medications are known to cause suicidal thoughts in teens and young adults and a vast array of other problems such as fatigue, dry mouth, worsening of depression, erectile dysfunction—you name it. In the end, we must be our own advocates when it comes to these medications and decide if we will join the millions of Americans walking around right now drugged up on antidepressants—too many of them over-diagnosed or not diagnosed at all.