Prior to the psychopharmacology era (or, the time before antidepressants had become widely available), most individuals struggling with mental illnesses such as depression were, more or less, left on their own. However, throughout the so-called “Prozac Revolution,” in the 1970s and 1980s, antidepressants started to become more commonplace, as more individuals began using them. Nowadays, more than 34 million people in the United States have been prescribed some form of an antidepressant.
A History of Depression
Depression, for example, has a myriad of causes, including biochemical, genetic, environmental, societal, and personal. Throughout human history, different causes have been blamed for the cause of depression. In ancient Greece, for example, Hippocrates, who is often called “the father of western medicine,” thought that melancholy was “caused by an over abundance of ‘black phlegm’,” which was through to be one of the bodies four humors—“substances produced by the body that were believed to regulate all bodily functions.”
Centuries later in the Middle Ages until the 19th century, a more metaphysical explanation was sought, and many thought that the cause of depression was “an affliction of the soul.” Causes and solutions were sought, but little progress was made until the 20th century.
Risks and Rewards of Antidepressants
An array of antidepressants remain in use.
Some of the more common drugs are Lustral, Prozac, and Cipramil, which are all considered SSRIs, or “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.” Generally speaking, these drugs work by increasing the brain’s neurotransmitter signaling. Other antidepressant types, such as tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, all work by altering the brain’s chemistry in some other way.
Although antidepressants remain widely used and work well for many individuals, some side effects are reported. Side effects vary depending on the type of drug in use; however, common antidepressant side effects are sedation, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction. Remember to seek advice from a trained medical professional when using antidepressants, or if you are experiencing some unwanted side effects.
Generally speaking, many research studies report that antidepressants work best when coupled with other forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. When used properly, antidepressants can save lives.
A Final Thought on Antidepressants
Although it remains difficult to generalize about antidepressants, they do, in many cases, remain effective. As noted in the outset, depression and other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and generalize anxiety disorder can not be, in most cases, isolated to a single cause, but antidepressants have been shown to alleviate unwanted symptoms of these mental disorders.
Finally, although drug therapy can aid in helping individuals recover from things like depression, it also remains important for individuals to seek out the best kind of therapy that they feel works best for them. In the “pill for every ill” society we live in, other interventions such as talk therapy may remain another important option for those suffering from a mental disorder. In fact, research consistently shows that cognitive therapy is an equally effective treatment for depression. What’s more, the effects of therapy are more enduring (since the skills and ways of thinking learned in therapy will remain even once the therapy has ended).
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression you can work with a therapist to figure out which option is best for you. In addition, therapy can also be a crucial part in exploring the option of coming off medication if you feel you may no longer need it or it isn’t working well for you.
Mitchell, E. S., and Triggle, D. J. (2004). Antidepressants. Chelsea House Publishers, Philadelphia, Pa.
Cognitive therapy vs. medications for depression: Treatment outcomes and neural mechanisms (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2748674/)