For a time, it seemed antidepressants were viewed as miracle drugs, a way for people who were suffering with depression to be able to face the world with a smile, without faking it for once.
Though there are plenty of people who are in desperate need of such medication, and for whm the benefits will always outweigh the side effects, many people are walking around and scratching their heads, wondering if the drugs are being overused.
“Just broke up with your boyfriend? No problem, here’s a magic pill.” “Your cat just died? It’s okay, we’ll make it better with a little medicine.” That's how some people view the way general practitioners, who are not trained psychiatrists, prescribe antidepressants.
Two experts debated the issue after a recent British study found that antidepressant usage increased by 9.6 percent in 2011, to 46 million prescriptions, according to Science Daily.
Dr. Des Spence, a general practitioner in Glasgow, Scotland, told BMJ Group that "we use antidepressants too easily, for too long, and that they are effective for few people (if at all)."
He believes depression is an important illness, but doesn’t believe in the clinical diagnosis of depression, which can be diagnosed in a person after two weeks of “low mood,” even if they are grieving a death.
Spence explains the diagnosis "is too loose and is causing widespread medicalization." He also asserted that 75 percent of doctors who use that definition to diagnose clinical depression have links to drug companies.
Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence doesn’t support the use of antidepressants for mild or moderate depression but instead urges for individuals to seek therapy.
"But even if we accept that antidepressants are effective, a Cochrane review suggests that only one in seven people actually benefits. Thus millions of people are enduring at least six months of ineffective treatment," Spence wrote.
The doctor added that the key to happiness is meditation and peace of mind, not trying to numb ourselves over with medicine.
"Improving society's well-being is not in the gift of medicine nor mere medication, and overprescribing of antidepressants serves as a distraction from a wider debate about why we are so unhappy as a society,” he wrote. “We are doing harm."
But another Scottish doctor, Ian Reid, professor of psychiatry at the University of Aberdeen, believes the notion that antidepressants are overprescribed "needs careful consideration."
He argues that the rise in antidepressant prescriptions has to do with treatment lasting longer rather than GPs handing out the medication "like sweeties."
Reid referenced a survey done in Grampian, Scotland, where doctors practiced "cautious and conservative prescribing."
"Antidepressants are but one element available in the treatment of depression, not a panacea," he wrote. "Like 'talking treatments' (with which antidepressants are entirely compatible), they can have harmful side effects, and they certainly don't help everyone with the disorder. But they are not overprescribed. Careless reportage has demonized them in the public eye, adding to the stigmatization of mental illness, and erecting unnecessary barriers to effective care."
The new Hollywood flick “Side Effects” staring Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum concerns a woman who was prescribed medication to ease her anxiety about her husband returning from prison.
The movie will be released Feb. 8 and seems to hit on the concern of whether or not the side effects of certain medication outweigh its benefits.