What does Prozac have to do with Earth Day?

A post titled "10 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day" on PsychCentral really got me tweaked. Most of the suggestions were good ideas and had a legitimate environmental focus. However, suggestion #3 caused my blood pressure to spike just a bit.

3. Talk with your doctor about alternatives to prescription medication.
Yes, I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but for some alternatives like exercise, talk therapy, and natural remedies work just as well as what comes out of those little bottles. Need some ideas? Check out yoga and sports therapies.


Certainly medication isn't the only option to treat depression, nor should it be. Both exercise and talk therapies have been proven effective against depression; as a rule, I steer clear of "natural remedies" unless they've been thoroughly researched. So I get that people should consider ALL options for treating depression, including medication.

What got me was not the suggestion of alternatives. What really got me tweaked was that this would only be suggested for a mental illness. You wouldn't tell a diabetic to try "insulin alternatives" to try and save the planet. Or screw the statins, Dad, just do some yoga. And chemotherapy might not be so Earth-friendly, either, so let's go play kickball instead. People wouldn't say this.

I am really sick and tired of people pooh-pooing treatments for mental illness that we know work. The author technically said "I know this wouldn't work for everyone but..." but it's the idea that no one would say this for any other type of illness. These are specifically blogs about psychology. Shouldn't they know better?

It seems that people who take medication for mental illness are almost seen as less-than, for not being able to "tough it out" and "pick themselves up" without the help of a pills "in little bottles." I don't like this. At all. Because it's just not true.

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13 comments:

Kim said...

Yeah, this really irks me too. It shows how much stigma is still attached to mental illness. Like you said, we wouldn't tell someone with diabetes to look for alternatives to insulin. We wouldn't tell cancer patients to "think outside the chemo box." I find that I am still really affected by this. I'm not on any meds, but sometimes I think I should be (for anxiety at the very least). Still, I have a difficult time detaching from the stigma and appreciating the nuances of my brain. Just because I'm wired differently doesn't make me bad or weak or whatever. If my chemicals require tweaking, then so be it. There shouldn't be all this shame attached. Mental illness is not a matter of willpower. That's just ridiculous.

Laura Collins said...

Word.

elizabeth said...

fuck yes! (i have nothing actually constructive to add)

Carrie Arnold said...

Elizabeth,

Your comment can certainly be construed as constructive. :)

IrishUp said...

Hang on, though! My DH is a marine chemist. One thing that is showing up in conference after conference is that the amount of pharmaceuticals in our water supplies (fresh and ocean, potable and not) is increasing. He recently came back from a conference that had a very creditable study linking pharm contamination of the water supply with direct-to-consumer marketing of drugs by Big Pharm (and believe me, DH is the KING of Skeptable Audiences).

While on the one hand, brain diseases do get stigmatized, OTOH, Big Pharm is VERY aggressively using DTCM to push anti-depressants on the general public, which is NOT something that happens with drugs for diabetes or chemo in the same way. And indeed, there is a lot of good data showing that when PCPs do the prescribing of anti-depressants, they tend to give the wrong patients the wrong doses - both by prescribing the drugs to people who don't actually meet the diagnostic criteria, and by NOT diagnosing or under-treating (with a too-low dose) patients who actually should be tried on anti-depressants. So it’s like this interesting dichotomy where the subtext might be “Take anti-depressants for bad moods, not brain disorders!”

It’s outright irresponsible to suggest to people that they self-diagnose and self-treat brain diseases. It’s a bit silly to link what is essentially a poor health care delivery paradigm with Earthday. But it is also REALLY important to recognize that pretty much everything we use winds up in our waters eventually, and as an Earthday message, that’s not quite so sucky.

ego in absentia said...

i concur with you. it is infuriating when people say stupid things like that. these types of meds, actually stop the urges in many with eating disorders. they are not only treating the depression, its much more complex than that. Grrrr, some just don't get it. Nor will they ever. We just have to take a deep breath *exhale* and move on spreading the good word and getting stronger. *hugs to you and Mama Earth!*

Carrie Arnold said...

IrishUp,

Oh, I agree that drug companies are pill pushers and are marketing towards people with depression, etc. And I have also seen the studies about pharmaceuticals in the water, and I do find them credible. However, anti-depressants are far from the only group of drugs out there, and it seems a bit unfair to single them out.

I think that drugs in the water IS an important environmental issue, but the fix shouldn't be "why don't you not take the drugs your doctor told you to."

Sarah said...

Fo'hizzle. I think that means I agree with you. I get a little confused with all of these "izzle" words, but bottom line: you make an EXCELLENT point. Things like this deeply disturb me. I want our culture to encourage treatment for depression, not give people who are already on the edge reasons NOT to seek help or take their doctor's suggestions which are based on evidence-based science...

IrishUp said...

Carrie -
Absolutely!
And I was trying to point out this weird tension or contradiction inherent in that piece:
1. In order for DTCM to work, Big Pharm has to make regular people see themselves as in need of a drug. This is relatively hard to do if the drug treats diseases with relatively well delineated diagnosis criteria like cancers, diabetes, hypertension.
2. Mood disorders are a different animal all together - there is a lot of subjective judgment involved.
3. OTOH, frank mental illness is still stigmatized.
4. Ergo, you have to market antidepressants in such a way as to appeal to as many people as possible, without implying that they have serious mental disease, which is stigmatized.
5. Given 4, it's now somehow reasonable to suggest that people don't "need" their antidepressant medication, since it's "just for their mood", or something.

My overall point being that it's really irresponsible both by the author of this piece, but even MORE by Big Pharm, to muddy the waters between serious brain disease, and normal transient moods (pardon the pun).

Gaining Back My Life said...

I'm glad I made the choice to take medication for depression, as opposed to 'the alternative'.

I only wish I had done it sooner.

Carrie Arnold said...

Irishup,

You're right- I think Big Pharm does have a lot to answer for. Part of the problem is that no one really knows the difference between clinical depression and normal bad moods. I mean, there's the questionnaires but that's far from optimal. I really think we need better diagnostics (among many other things!).

Crimson Wife said...

To be fair, I've actually heard a number of sources recommend trying natural remedies in combination with lifestyle changes for mild cases of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. in lieu of taking prescription drugs. I don't see how recommending trying alternatives to prescription antidepressants for *MILD* cases of depression is any different.

I had undiagnosed post-partum depression with my first baby and what pulled me out of it was getting exercise. That's not to say that a prescription antidepressant wouldn't have worked equally well or perhaps better. But it was only after I had my 2nd child 3 years later that I understood the difference between normal "baby blues" and PPD.

Anonymous said...

Actually doctors do suggest natural remedies for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and minor heart ailments. So yes, sometines they do say "screw statins". Just not in those exact words. Granted, no one tells diabetics to stop taking insulin. But they are encouraged to eat healthier and exercise more so they won't need as much insulin.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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