To Pill or not to Pill

pillsThere is an overabundance of ads on TV telling us that we need this pill or that. Some try to convince us that what was once a normal occurrence is now considered a disease. Some promise to restore function assumed to be lost with age. But do we really need all these medications?

Though I don’t buy into the notion that everyone should be taking pills, I recognize that there are many people with chronic conditions for whom medications are a lifesaver. Still, each time another ad comes on TV extolling the benefits of a drug, it drives me crazy. Then comes…wait for it…the soothing music that plays while a litany of side effects and possible dangers is recited. The ubiquitous presence of these ads makes it seem that everybody is taking pills these days and that they are necessary.

In my 40s, after going through a divorce, I was told that I needed to take antidepressants and that I would have to take them for the rest of my life. The doctor said it with such authority that I felt compelled to follow his orders. But something inside me just didn’t believe it. A few years later, I slowly weaned myself off the meds and started seeing a therapist occasionally. I found talking with her and changing my patterns of thought more helpful. In addition, regular exercise did a lot for my mood. But I sometimes was haunted by the “expert opinion” and wondered if I was being irresponsible.

Last night, I read an article in O magazine about Julie Holland, a psychiatrist specializing in psychopharmacology and the author of a new book, Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking…and What’s Really Making You Crazy. I was amazed to see another “expert opinion,” one that resonated with what I believed all along. In the article, Holland said that too many women are being told to medicate away their authentic selves. Rather than live with their sensitive nature, women have been told to reduce that sensitivity and grow thicker skin by taking antidepressants. Dr. Holland disagreed with this practice and said that women need to feel all of their feelings. It’s our body’s way of letting us know that something needs our attention and the medications simply mask that feedback.

Holland suggested that while some women do actually need to take antidepressants, many can become more resilient by changing their thought patterns and behaviors. She stated, “I want people to adopt healthier coping strategies so they can get off meds. That’s the goal. You’re not meant to stay on these drugs for decades.”

This is a different perspective, one that resonates with my own gut feeling. Sometimes drugs can be helpful, but too often, there is a push for overuse and dependence. Rather than mindlessly respond to every drug commercial, consider the alternative. Maybe another pill is not the answer at all.

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