There’s has been a lot of chatter in the NY Times in the past week about antidepressants. I’ve been unable to decide whether I think the general direction of the conversation is leading us out of the antidepressant confusion or not.
Certainly, it’s good that the prolific use of antidepressants is being questioned. Actually it’s good that any use of these medications is being questioned. Research has shown that in most cases the antidepressants work no better than placebos and they have significant side effects. But, in spite of the current research, after reading the Times I was left wondering if professionals and consumers are having difficulty making the necessary paradigm shift.
This paradigm shift entails moving from seeing medications as the only cure for depression to investigating other treatment options. I am not certain if the psychiatric community is open to a variety of treatment options or if most psychiatrists are stuck on the idea that what is needed is a “better pill.”
Depression is a complicated condition and effective treatment involves much more than altering brain chemistry with medications. I hope that the psychiatric community will open their collective mind to looking at different treatment options instead of continuing to view medication as the solution.
For a long time, physicians bought into the idea that antidepressants were a viable answer for the problem of depression. It is human nature that doctors and consumers alike share a great deal of resistance to integrating information telling them something different from what they already believe, It is difficult for them to acknowledge that the emperor is naked and to embark on a new path. The notion that depression results from a nexus of risk factors, not only brain chemicals gone awry, is now obvious and accepted by many but unfortunately this theory has not yet been integrated into psychiatric thought and practice.
Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, echoed my thoughts when she made the following statement:
“Despite the risks and uncertain benefits, the number of Americans taking psychiatric drugs is soaring, and the heavy reliance on drugs diverts resources from efforts to find better methods of treatment. Mental illness is a serious problem, but in the absence of sound evidence, we should be skeptical about all treatment claims—particularly those promoted by the pharmaceutical industry.”
Dr. Angell’s advice is sound. On the other hand, Dr. Lori Simon made a statement implying that despite the uncertainties she is locked into medications as the only answer for depression. Following is her statement:
“Perhaps in the distant future, we will have a machine that will analyze each patient’s brain and create a customized medication regimen, but until then, clinicians are left with the reality that prescribing medication for depression remains much more of an art than a science.”
Anti-depressant medications have profound effects on the physiology. Should someone believe in the benefits of antidepressants when a respected physician admits that prescribing is more an art than a science? In addition, a diagnostic machine is not necessary. Natural medicine offers techniques which give solid diagnosis for the underlying imbalances leading to depression. (Read Chapter 3 in Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way.)
The Role of Big Pharma
The goal of Big Pharma is to make money and pharmaceutical companies are very successful in achieving this goal. Money translates into power. The pharmaceutical industry can pay for media “experts” or physicians to promote the proliferation of their products. People want to feel better and we all tend to believe that what we hear over and over again is the truth. As a society we have bought into the idea that good science produces good medications and that we can trust our doctors to prescribe what is best for us. And so we believe it when our doctors tell us that the answer for depression is drugs. But the truth is that one has to look for the proverbial needle in the haystack to find the truly viable solutions. The viable solutions have to do with lifestyle and unfortunately no one makes any money from research into life style interventions or from depressed people changing their life style as their primary treatment option. And so, the quest for a “pill that works” continues. This pill doesn’t exist and looking for it is a waste of time. Depression is not caused by a broken brain and the cure does not lie in fixing what isn’t broken.
In our book Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way Sandra and I discuss how depression is created and how depression is undone. If you are depressed we recommend you read our book and learn about “another way” (the Ayurvedic way) to view both depression and treatment for this disorder. Ayurvedic theories correspond more readily to theories held by modern physicists than to traditional medical theories. Therefore, although Ayurveda comes from ancient India it is also more modern than so called “modern medicine.”
Instead of looking for an answer from Big Pharma we suggest that physicians investigate how to activate the inherent physiological self-repair mechanism. Within our physiologies there exists an internal healing intelligence that guides the healing of wounds. This intelligence senses the pain brought on by a cut on your finger and immediately mobilizes a series of reactions to stop the bleeding, form a scab, and induce the regeneration of skin. Elegantly and effortlessly, this process has a 100 percent rate of success, assuming it is not interrupted. It must be successful, for our lives depend on it. Ayurveda informs us that it is possible to unleash this same innate healing intelligence to heal depression.
Depression is a condition that intimately involves many facets of the human being: our physical being as well as the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self. This is perhaps why, when individuals are depressed, everything hurts, nothing seems right, and problems may at times seem larger than life.
Ayurveda does not deny that an imbalance in brain chemistry is involved in depression. But, it highlights the fact that the interplay of molecules in the brain is incredibly complicated. Brain health is affected by much more than the quantity of brain chemicals produced. Hormones, for example, greatly influence the workings of the brain. Food, in turn, influences the production of the hormones and our emotions often guide our food choices—for better or for worse. All aspects of our physiology are interwoven. Mother Nature is a weaver, and she has woven every thread of our being into one tapestry, which is maintained by our lifestyle.
Depression can seep into an individual’s body and mind like a slow leak, like water into the basement of a house, or it can arrive like a flood, coming suddenly and with dramatic force. Depression is influenced by genes, life situations, and the state of one’s general health. We should not underestimate the impact of the wear and tear of daily living on our physical, mental, and emotional health. Regardless of the origin, Ayurveda gives us hope by offering strategies for keeping depression at bay.
NAMA, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association, has a website that can direct you to an Ayurvedic professional in your area. If you suffer from depression we suggest you investigate this path in your quest to heal. You have nothing to lose from going this route and everything to gain. If you are currently taking medication and choose to continue, a holistic Ayurvedic program will help you to achieve radiant good health.
On the other hand, Ayurveda can help you to transition away from medication. Getting off of medications must always be carefully monitored by a physician. Ayurveda can also help people who have never experienced depression but who may have genetic tendencies by helping them to maintain a state of optimal wellness. Fundamentally, application of this logical and sensible knowledge can help anyone who wants to uproot depression from his or her life.
Answers do exist—-They exist in holistic, natural medicine, not in Big Pharma. We hope you find these answers and we wish you the full extent of your birthright. According to Ayurveda happiness is our birthright and is the result of a physiology brimming with vitality and good health.