There's a major backlash a-brewin' against the use of psychotropic medication to battle depression, and the forthcoming book Comfortably Numb by Charles Barber, could easily be called the bible of that backlash. Barber, a psychiatrist, cautions against over-medication, and argues that, "anger, greed, laziness, impulsivity, as well as jealousy, lust, anguish, and so on, are simply part of the human predicament" and should not be treated with medication. Barber is attempting to draw a line between "real" depression and just being bummed out, suggesting cognitive behavioral therapy or other forms of talk therapy to combat depression. I think no one can argue that anti-depressants are over-prescribed — horror stories about five-year-olds on Zoloft litter anti-drug literature and Scientology screeds — but without prolonged talk therapy, how can you draw that line? And even after thorough psychiatric investigation, won't each therapist's discretion be subjective?
Then, there's the problem, as Salon succinctly puts it, of the "Serotonin Empire." "The Serotonin Empire continues to expand for a simple reason: Try getting your company's health insurance to cover the expense of counseling. Odds are, it won't. But it'll pay for pills," writes Jerome Weeks, in a roundup of several books about antidepressants. (No wonder that Eli Lilly, the company that makes Prozac, had its fourth-quarter net income rise six-fold last year!) The people are medicated, the drug companies are happy, and physicians — many of whom are not psychiatrists — are prescribing anti-depressant meds after consultations of as little as 3 minutes, says Salon.
Which is not to say that I am anti anti-depressants: I've been on Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro and Wellbutrin at some point or another over the past seven years, and I think I can safely say that at the time my initial SSRI was prescribed, I was far past the point of "bummed." I cried pretty much incessantly for over a month, could barely get out of bed, and was essentially unable to function. I have a vivid memory of struggling to make myself a bagel, and then breaking down into tears when the charred smell of burnt yeast started coming from the kitchen — toasting a baked good was a task both tiny and totally impossible.
Honestly, I don't know what would have happened had I not taken anti-depressants; I suppose I would have struggled through it, and hopefully not become Bell Jar refugee with my wrists slit or my head in the oven. Maybe I would have been fine, as I am now, and continued to live out my life contentedly. At least until middle-age (according to a new study, those in mid-life are most likely to be depressed). But of course, by the time I hit 50, Eli Lilly will probably have something for mid-life crises too.