Earlier today I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a meme that said something along the lines of “Antidepressants cause suicide so why would anybody take them?” It really pissed me off. The amount of stigma and misinformation surrounding mental health is astounding. I feel like people love to come out against medications that treat mental illness because people truly believe that mental illness isn’t real. Even worse are the people who believe that we can all “cure” ourselves through diet and exercise, a common thread in the comments below the image. People stated (without any scientific evidence) that medication is prescribed too often and unnecessarily. Do these people stop to think that perhaps any increase in the amount of people on medication is a result of more people seeking treatment? More people being on medication is not necessarily a bad thing. (There were also people who seemed to be from the all medications are evil and so are vaccines camp but that’s a whole other can of worms.)
Whenever I see comments along the lines of “I know so and so who changed their diet and lifestyle and achieved xyz.” I am equal parts happy for them and skeptical. Whenever people want to make a point they will cite weak anecdotal evidence that supports their argument. People are all different and what works for one person may not work for another. We also can’t rule out the placebo effect. If you truly believe that your depression will get better through diet and exercise it could work for you. And for some a lifestyle change might actually be useful in managing depression etc but that doesn’t mean that the same is true for other patients. Besides, that line of thinking assumes a lot about a person and puts blame on the person for their illness. It’s almost like saying “If you would eat the right foods and exercise more you wouldn’t be depressed.”
All medications come with risks and while it’s true that some medications can cause suicidal thoughts that does not mean that those same medicines can’t be life-saving or that they result in suicide all of the time. In fact, a study found that the FDA-issued suicide risk warning for these medications decreased the number of prescriptions while also increasing the number of suicides. What ended up happening was that doctors became less inclined to prescribe medication while at the same time patients did not receive more therapy which resulted in patients going untreated.
In its article, Teen suicide tries increased after FDA toughened antidepressant warning, the Harvard Health Blog writes, “If medication is needed, an SSRI is an excellent first choice. But it’s important to heed the message from the BMJ study, and what should have been the message from the original FDA warnings: Anyone with a new diagnosis of depression, and his or her family, need to be alerted to the possibility of suicidal thoughts—even if no drug therapy is started—and to report such thoughts right away.”
And that is the purpose of these black box warnings on SSRIs, to make the consumer and medical professional aware and vigilant. Further, the population affected most by these side effects are children and young adults, which makes blanket statements such as the one in the meme I saw intellectually dishonest at best and irresponsible at worst.
People who suffer from depression can find relief in different ways. Discrediting and shaming those who rely on pharmaceuticals is bullshit.