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  • Writer's pictureDr. Melanie Watt

Antidepressants and Women

Medications are an important part of mental health treatment for many patients. The New York Times published an article about antidepressants with some statistics that caught my attention.

15.5 million Americans have been taking (antidepressants) for at least five years. The rate has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000.

Patients are fortunate to have the option of medication support to help them cope with chronic depression. For many, the chemistry of depression is unforgiving and the use of antidepressants is a light in the darkness. However, demographic data concerning long-term use of antidepressants stood out:

How are we to make sense of this striking trend? And why aren't minority women of the same age receiving the same prescription rates? Perhaps it has to do with access to care, or stigma in seeking mental health treatment. Either way, this is alarming for women.

Gender Bias in Pharmaceutical Research

Good research minimizes as many extraneous variables as possible. Because of hormonal fluctuations, women are less likely to be included in pharmaceutical drug trials. This means most pharmaceutical research is done on men, creating a gender bias in the literature used to guide treatment.

Hormonal patterns heavily influence women's physical and emotional health. I provide care to women across the lifespan, and I have seen my share of patients diagnosed with mental health conditions that a month or two of symptom tracking clearly shows is linked to hormone patterns. While hormonal irregularities can amplify underlying depressive or anxious disorders, it is important to know: they are not the same thing.

women, hormones, mental health

When it comes to your mental health, there's no substitute for effective therapy. Regardless of a person's choice to utilize medication support, research suggests that the most powerful protection against depression or anxiety is good therapeutic support. People who combine therapy with medication are less likely to require long term use of medications, and are more likely to fully recover without relapse.

Biofeedback is additionally helpful in teaching a person to become aware of the shifts in their body and builds skill in healing chronic imbalances. While medication is an effective outside-in treatment, becoming familiar with your own physiology allows you to foster positive, lasting change from the inside, out.

Watch Susan David's TED Talk on how to manage negative emotions in a healthy way.


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