Depression: Do You Need Antidepressants?

Almost 200 million prescriptions are written every year for people who have been diagnosed with clinical depression, and even more people suffer from forms of mild depression for which they don't receive medication. Mild depression is common, may be intermittent, and may last for minutes or hours, usually passing with time.

Severe depression, on the other hand, is a pervasive disorder that does not lift easily. In most cases, there is no clear causative or initiating event. There is a lack of energy and inability to plan for the next few minutes or hours. Some experts say that what differentiates serious depression from mild depression is that it does not respond to the normal positive stimuli such as a loving family, good times, great food or other usually positive input. Nothing feels good or right. When someone tells you to "buck up," "get over it," or "just think pleasant thoughts," you might feel anger or actually feel nothing in response. This condition does not improve because you will it do so. The unrelenting severe depression should not be ignored or treated lightly. If you experience this severe depression, see a doctor who can get you help.

In order to give a more universal and integrative viewpoint to the subject, I have excerpted some information from an interview with Dr. James Gordon, founder and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, in which he discusses his new book, Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression.

In his book, Dr. Gordon states that depression is not a disease. Instead, he says, it is "a way of feeling and a set of attitudes that people develop toward the world, influenced certainly by heredity but, much more importantly, a result of their entire life experience." Given this viewpoint and his background as a mind-body specialist, it is therefore no surprise that he eschews the use of drugs for depression. Instead, his recommendations are based on a holistic, natural approach to healing using food and nutritional supplements; Chinese medicine; movement, exercise and dance; psychotherapy, meditation and guided imagery; and spiritual practice and prayer.

Making the case that depression -- even in its severest forms -- is a temporal state, Dr. Gordon states that "suffering is sometimes both a necessary teacher and a prelude to profound, life enhancing change." There are biological changes which occur in the body during depression, but whether the changed levels of neurotransmitters of information in the brain are the cause of, or the result of, the problem is still unclear. Simply put: we don't know whether depression occurs due to changes in the brain, or whether those changes happen as a result of the depression.

Dr. Gordon reminds us that when we examine the effectiveness of antidepressant medications, it's essential to consider the control that drug companies exert over the information that the public has access to, pointing out that drug companies publish only the drug studies with positive results. However, he maintains, when viewed from an unbiased standpoint, antidepressants make a minimal difference in correcting depression.

"We've created a social belief that the power to heal lies in the hands of the experts, the doctors. In the case of depression, and indeed of many chronic conditions, this is simply not true."
-- Dr. James Gordon

Dr. Gordon's patient-centered approach puts the power back in patients' hands by allowing them "to take an active part in their own healing." Using integrative medicine to treat depression places the emphasis back on the "wholeness" of the patient, rather than simply treating part of the problem -- that is, the biological effects of depression -- with drugs.