DepressionNeed that back pain to go away? Take a couple of these pills. Need help in the bedroom? Yes, there’s a simple little prescription for that too. Need your clothes whiter than white? You can even pop a tablet in your washing machine.

Our quick fix society combined with pharmaceutical companies’ drive for profits have created a situation where we expect all illnesses to submit to a swift and simple course of medication – even depression.

The way advertising sells depression medication is by highlighting its primary cause as a “chemical imbalance” in your brain. Surely, they reason, if we can give you a pill which corrects this imbalance then you’re mended, the pain’s gone away, you’re whiter than white again.

But there are a few of issues with this view of mental illness:

  1. Yes, depression is characterised by a change in brain chemistry, but there’s no evidence which shows that the correlation of changes in chemistry confirms the causation of depression.
  2. Although using medication to alter brain chemistry may create a short-term “cure”, it fails to address the links which depression share with behaviour, personal history, relationship and thought patterns and emotional health.
  3. Your mental health can be directly influenced by some of the side-effects listed for many forms of anti-depressant medication. Just consider quite how issues such as stomach pains, hallucinations, memory problems, a loss of coordination and tremors could affect your quality of life and whether they’re particularly conducive to breaking free from the tougher elements of depressive disorders.

It is, of course, important to understand how the “depressed brain” changes as a way to show how biological factors influence our emotions and vice versa – it reveals how depression isn’t a one-way street and how it can be beaten.

But to ignore how psychotherapy can also alter the brain’s chemistry as well as tackle lifestyle and emotional issues which contribute to depression is to miss a vital element of our weaponry to fight depression: just as we learn to be depressed because of events in our lives and our brain changes to accommodate living in a depressed manner, so we can learn to break out of depression and our brains will follow suit.

What’s more, there’s research which points to cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy having much longer efficacy than medication, which tends to stop working as soon as it is withdrawn.

In a revealing study by the University of Wyoming’s Brett Deacon quoted by Dr Todd Kashdan in Psychology Today, 91 adults who were or had been clinically depressed were given a fake “Rapid Depression Test” examining their serotonin levels with half then told there was a clear chemical reason for their depression and the other half told their serotonin levels were fine and brain chemistry didn’t explain their depression.

The result was that those who accepted the biomedical reason for their depression became more pessimistic about recovery; less confident about managing negative moods; less flexible about treatment (they ditched psychotherapy in preference of medication).

Simply put, pills offer no simple fix. They are easy to prescribe and easy to take, but they don’t tackle the whole complex picture of depression, something which therapy is far more successful at tackling.

  • If you think you may be suffering from depression, it’s important to seek help and psychotherapy is a good alternative to medication. For more information on Robert Street Clinic’s range of psychotherapists, counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists, call us on 09 973 5950, email us at info@robertstclinic.co.nz or message us via the website.