Q: Chuck, I enjoyed your column titled "Natural Remedies for Depression." It seems that everyone is on antidepressants these days. What's your take on that trend? And is it true that dosages that are too high can actually depress you? — "Lift My Mood" in Louisiana
A: I'm not a medical doctor, but I am a connoisseur of all types of health news and trends. And I believe there's a definite time and place for medicine — even antidepressants — but it concerns me when so many feel they need so much so often and so quickly without seeking any other recourse.
The reason I wrote the column you mentioned was I believe that too many who struggle with mild cases of depression don't think they can find genuine relief without a pill. And it's important for people know that in the wrong hands and taken the wrong ways, antidepressants can actually depress or worse.
There's a brand-new study conducted by epidemiologists at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina that was published in JAMA Internal Medicine and shows that "kids and young adults starting on high doses of antidepressants are at especially high risk, especially in the first three months of treatment," according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Times went on to explain that "among patients 24 and younger, those who started treatment for depression or anxiety with a higher-than-usual dose of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) were more than twice as likely to harm themselves intentionally than those whose treatment began at the customary dose and increased slowly, the study found."
That's further alarming news when we consider that as many as 1 in 10 Americans older than 12 are on some form of antidepressant and that the above study found that "about 18 percent of young people diagnosed with depression were prescribed an initial antidepressant dose that was higher than that recommended by clinical guidelines," in the LA Times' words.
I'm not trying to scare depressed people away from taking antidepressants, especially those with severe symptoms, but I am trying to raise awareness of antidepressant reality. What's also interesting is that though the numbers of those taking antidepressants have risen dramatically over the years (400 percent since 1988), Time reported in 2011 that "two-thirds of those with severe symptoms of depression do not take antidepressants at all." If anyone, it is this group that needs the antidepressants or some other form of mood-stabilizing medication.
That leads me to another critical point: True experts in the mental health field say antidepressants are often prescribed too quickly and over-prescribed. Scholars also point to the fact that antidepressants can actually exacerbate certain mental disorder conditions.
Case in point, bipolar disorder. Because our culture (and even many in the medical world) doesn't regard "emotional highs" as detrimental or needing treatment, those struggling with bipolar disorder are often wrongly diagnosed with just depression and given antidepressants. But such a prescription is very dangerous.
Jim Phelps, M.D., one of the nation's leading experts on mental health, says that prescribing antidepressants for bipolarity is a classic medical blunder. Phelps plainly states in his insightful book, "Why Am I Still Depressed?": "Antidepressants can make bipolar conditions worse ... so that people have more mood episodes than before ... and thus more depressed phases, and thus more days depressed, than before they started the antidepressant." His book and explanations of how and why this occurs should be required reading for all medical and professional counseling personnel on this planet.
The fact is that many doctors and other health practitioners wrongly prescribe antidepressants when they don't understand the wide scope of mental diagnoses or ramifications. In a culture that's quick to make people feel better, they rush to mental judgment and to remedy depression with what is in reality a superficial diagnosis. Instead, they ought to be referring outpatients with considerable mental struggles to professional counselors and psychiatrists as they do to other specialists.
And proof that this is an issue comes when one considers that the above Harvard-based study, in the LA Times' words, "used medical records to track 162,625 U.S. residents, ages 10 to 64, who were diagnosed with depression and prescribed SSRI between 1998 and 2010. It found that more than half of antidepressants in that period were prescribed by primary care doctors, and about an additional quarter by practitioners not specialized in mental health. Even in children, fewer than 30 percent of antidepressant prescriptions were issued by psychiatrists."
The bottom line is, as the old adage goes, "a proper diagnosis precedes a proper prescription." So practice due diligence. No practitioner — no matter how good — is a specialist in everything. Get a second or even third opinion before ingesting medication long term. Make sure your diagnosis and prescription are backed by a specialist in the field.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.