Dear Dr. C,
My mother died a few months ago and I have been very sad and depressed. My family doctor wants me to take antidepressants and I’m not sure what to do. What do you think?
Ultimately, the decision is yours but I suggest you do your homework first. Like all medications, antidepressants can have serious side effects so you have to weigh the risks and the benefits. I have clients who do well on medication. Sometimes it can help get their heads above water so they can deal with the issues in their lives. There are others for whom I recommend a psychiatric assessment to see if medication will help, but still others that I have helped (with medical supervision) get off these potent drugs.
Do you have a history of depression before your mother’s death? If not, this is likely a situational depression and I must admit I don’t advocate medication for normal human feelings like grief at the loss of a parent.
I must also admit I am uncomfortable with the current perspective in the psychiatric/medical profession which has narrowed the range of human feelings and emotions that are considered “normal”. The tendency to suggest antidepressants for all sorts of feelings and situations is of real concern to me. Why is it that we are unwilling to feel what all humans feel…grief, sadness, anxiety, fear?
When I was going through my second divorce I was severely depressed. After the failure of my first marriage I thought the second one would be the winner. Having that marriage also end was a real blow. I was extremely anxious and the doctor gave me some anti-anxiety medication that, to my mind, was a real life saver. But she also put me on a commonly used antidepressant. After some weeks on this medication, even though there were some benefits, I came to the conclusion that it was normal to feel depressed and sad that the marriage had ended and I didn’t want to mask the feelings. The psychiatrist disagreed strongly with me but I went off it anyway, went into therapy and felt what needed to be felt.
The human heart feels. That is its nature. We can’t tell our heart to only feel good feelings and not feel the uncomfortable ones. It just doesn’t work that way. If we are unwilling to feel all that comes our way, the heart shuts down. Then the compassion, joy and caring are numbed along with the unpleasant emotions.
For a remarkable overview of the over prescription of antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs, I suggest you have a look at “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America” by Robert Whitaker. He has a strong case for only using psychiatric drugs for severe mental illness, not for situational feelings that are unpleasant. These drugs actually increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill, and induce new and more severe psychiatric symptoms in a significant percentage of patients. The book might help you in your decision.
It is through your grief, J.B. that you honor the memory of your mother. The depth of your feelings indicates the depth of your loss. Find someone with whom you can share stories of your mother. Remember her in your heart. The intense pain will pass.