While there is no dispute that the incidence of depression is growing, the response to this growth is changing. The trend has been away from traditional psychotherapy and toward a pharmaceutical solution. As reported by Scientific American, “Between 1996 and 2005 the percentage of psychiatry office visits involving psychotherapy decreased from about 44.4 percent – already a significant decline from the 1980’s – to 28.9 percent.
One of the main causes for this 35 percent reduction in psychotherapy, the study’s authors say, is the increasing availability of psychiatric medications with few adverse effects.”(7) In short, more people are being diagnosed with depression, more of them are being given medication, and fewer are receiving counseling. The whole-person approach is being replaced by the promise of a “magic pill.”
Accompanying the increase in prescription medication is a lack of acknowledgment by the medial community of its role that physical health and nutrition play in addressing depression. The focal point of depression treatment is not what the body can do for itself but rather how the body, specifically the brain, is viewed as defective. Because the emphasis of study is on the neurological chemical imbalance, it isn’t difficult to understand why the preferred solution is chemical, or pharmaceutical, in nature.
Today’s emphasis on medications centers around a new classification of drugs called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which includes Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. Serotonin is one of the body’s important neurotransmitters, which assist in brain functions including mood, sleep, mental alertness, and sexual responsiveness. These drugs certainly have a place in relieving symptoms of severe depression, but an overemphasis on these drugs does not incorporate alternative approaches helpful for alleviating depression.
Dr. Peter R. Breggin, in 1994 sounded the warning regarding this emphasis on psychiatric drugs to treat depression in his groundbreaking book Toxic Psychiatry. (8) In his book, he looked into the not-so-distant future and the possible consequences of this treatment trend, predicting, “Innumerable adults with solvable personal problems will end up taking drugs, getting shock treatment, or being locked up in mental hospitals – or all three.” (9) Dr. Breggin’s subtitle for this book speaks loudly to his preferred method for helping those with depression: Why Therapy, Empathy, and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the “New Psychiatry.”
Concerned about this trend toward drugs alone and away from other types of therapy, Dr. Breggin followed up Toxic Psychiatry with Talking Back to Prozac. (10) This book discusses specific information related to Prozac, a top-selling antidepressant, and Dr. Breggin’s concerns about harmful side effects. He frames the problem this way: “Increasingly, life is becoming a contest between pills – exemplified by Prozac – and life itself. People are giving up on life in favor of pills. They are abandoning the struggle to embrace life for the ease of swallowing a pill. There is enormous cost attached to this choice.” (11)
Sigmund Freud, perhaps prophetically, said, “We use talk now until we understand the chemistry.” The above-mentioned statistic reported in Scientific American illustrates the prescription perception that with the introduction of more and more antidepressant medications, talking (counseling or psychotherapy) is no longer as important. This sets up a scenario where medication alone is touted as the definitive cure for depression. Sadly, this is not the case.
Of course, none of this is to discount the pivotal role pharmaceuticals can and should play in treating extreme forms of depression. For instance, the National Institute of Mental Health conducted a study of the drug ketamine on those with bipolar disorder. In findings published in Biological Psychiatry, it’s been revealed that a single dose of ketamine has dramatic antidepressant effects within forty minutes of taking it. And it is also the first and only drug that not only “significantly reduced suicidal thoughts” in those with bipolar depression but it did so within one hour of dosage. (12)
If someone you know is suffering from depression, remember that it’s important to seek professional guidance when diagnosing and treating depression. For more information about depression treatment, call The Center • A Place of HOPE at 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today. Or, fill out this form, and a treatment specialist will contact you.
 Erica Westly, “Psychiatric Drugs Replacing Talk Therapy,” Scientific American, December 2, 2008, www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=psychiatric-drugs-replacing-talk-therapy.
 Peter R. Breggin, MD, Toxic Psychiatry (New York: St. Martin’s, 1994).
 Breggin, Toxic Psychiatry, 17.
 Peter R. Breggin, MD, Talking Back to Prozac (New York: St. Martin’s, 1995).
 Breggin, Talking Back to Prozac, 230.
 “Ketamine Improved Bipolar Depression Within Minutes, Study Suggests,” ScienceDaily, May 30, 2012, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530100247.htm.