This is very important information for lots of reasons. The first is that no one should think that the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro are as safe as taking Tylenol or a couple of aspirin. These are serious medicines that bring with them significant side effects. Patients who are offered these medicines should be asking their doctors to carefully inform them about the possible side effects.
Second, it is vitally important to be certain that the individual being treated is actually struggling with depression. This is a real problem today because since 1980 normal sadness has been turned into depression. Individuals who are struggling with normal grieving over loss do not have a disease. When they are treated with medication that is meant for a disease they will often simply be sad and then have the side effects of the medicine.
Third, it is important to note that younger individuals seem to have more trouble with this side effect of the SSRI antidepressant than older ones. As the researchers noted, “…the efficacy of antidepressant therapy for youth seems to be modest.” With that being said, taking medicine that has significant side effects and risks should be a last resort, not the first thing we reach for.
In Good Mood Bad Mood, I outline the research that deals with the importance of dealing with people grieving over loss differently than with those who cannot tell us why they are sad.[iv] The latter has been described for years as disordered sadness and used to be the one of the main criteria for making a diagnosis of depression.
Up to 90% of individuals who carry the label of depression today can tell us when it started and what they lost. They are far more likely to be struggling with normal sadness than a disease. And at the same time, it appears that that nearly 90% of people who take the currently available antidepressant do not benefit from them any more than they would from taking a placebo pill.[v]
The first principle of medicine that all physicians must learn is “first do no harm.” Few of us in medicine would be satisfied with just leaving it at that. I would say that most of us in medicine are always looking for better ways to help and yes, to cure. But, the benefit of taking medicine must be worth the risk.
When we add in the significant problem of side effects, most of these strugglers would probably do better just talking to anyone with training, compassion and skill. And, many could profit greatly from counseling from the Bible that deals with how God wants to love and help them in the middle of their sorrow.
[i] The JAMA Network Journals. "High doses of antidepressants appear to increase risk of self-harm in children young adult." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140428164111.htm>.
[ii] Matthew Miller, Sonja A. Swanson, Deborah Azrael, Virginia Pate, Til Stürmer. Antidepressant Dose, Age, and the Risk of Deliberate Self-harm. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.1053
[iii] David A. Brent, Robert Gibbons. Initial Dose of Antidepressant and Suicidal Behavior in Youth. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.14016
[iv] Good Mood Bad Mood, Shepherd Press, Chapter 5.
[v] Ibid. p.49.