Have you ever been shamed for using antidepressants?

Jessica Ashley, Senior Editor

There's a debate rumbling in medical publications and newspapers and magazines, between psychiatrists and health journalists and researchers, about how we talk about antidepressants.

Their debate falls mostly around whether "psychoactive drugs are useless" or necessary, or maybe even a little bit of both. The arguments and studies and opinions of these professionals are all fascinating and necessary.

One study reported earlier this year that nearly 20% of Americans who are taking antidepressants have never been diagnosed with the conditions their medication treats and that only half of those on antidepressants ever got a psychiatric diagnosis at all. Meanwhile, sales of these drugs rang up to nearly $10 billion in 2009, with some patients paying out as much as $100 to be treated with them.

If that seems like a lot of doling out of meds, it is. But there are also quite a few people in the U.S. who may really need the help. The National Institute of Mental Health accounts for nearly 15 million Americans who have major depression and an additional 40 million with some kind of anxiety disorder. Another large-scale surveys showed that, in 2007, about 8.7 million people received treatment for depression. It also revealed that about 75% of those people treated were given antidepressants, and of those, half were treated by both psychotherapy and medication.

Those are a lot of numbers. What's more powerful may be the stories behind the statistics -- how antidepressants have impacted the lives of real people. It's not that these anecdotes cannot be found. Mothers have been telling raw, honest accounts of depression (postpartum and otherwise), parenting, and pregnancy for years. Message boards are filled with first-person experiences of taking, weaning from, moving on from, and sometimes returning to antidepressant treatment. Celebrities have spilled their own stories with the press and fans and all of Twitter.

So when Robert Whitaker pointed out "the need for our society to have an honest discussion about the merits of psychiatric medications" in his book The Anatomy of an Epidemic and then defended his argument in Psychology Today, it'd be nice to think he wasn't just bickering with medical professionals.

Perhaps it is wise for patients, friends, and caregivers to put the issue on the table again, too. I saw this happen several times a few weeks ago when I was at a conference where lots of mothers were gathered. Conversation kept turning to antidepressants, sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously, and once in a while out a clear request for support. There was discussion of who was on medication, who'd struggled through postpartum depression, what it felt like to fill that first prescription or admit it was time to go back on the drugs after time off. What struck me was how emotional it was for so many of the women put on themselves to put pill to tongue, and how deeply painful it was when other women criticized a mother's need to take antidepressants to be healthier and feel better.

It was powerful. And complex. So I wonder if, while the medical community takes a look at the studies and science of antidepressants if it is important for women to also keep talking honestly about how we have felt the impact of this kind of medication in our own lives. The numbers can't always reflect those stories of struggle, relief, pain, and support.

Have you felt shame or been criticized for taking antidepressants? How did you handle it? What's your advice to women who feel the need for this kind of medication but are feeling judged or upset about it?


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