3 reasons why antidepressants are overprescribed and what you can do about it

Could an unwillingness to experience suffering be causing overly prescribed antidepressants?

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  • Did you know mental health medications are the most prescribed class of drugs in America? In fact, Abilify (an antipsychotic) is the number one prescribed drug period. This news is profound when given the findings of a recent study.

  • The study, published by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found 69% of patients prescribed antidepressant medications may have never met criteria for a major depressive disorder. They also discovered many of the patients prescribed medications for anxiety disorders did not meet medical criteria for obsessive compulsive, panic, social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorders. (Please note that for people with clinical depression, medication can and does help.)

  • So, why the overprescribing? It can be attributed to several medical and cultural challenges.

  • Limits of primary care prescribers

  • Although these professionals are well versed in the signs and symptoms of depression, they are not always well versed in effective long-term treatments. Their interviews with patients sometimes lack detail and depth, which can lead to poor diagnostic accuracy.

  • Because of our present culture, patients are more comfortable seeking out care from their medical provider than seeking a consultation with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Despite the fact that around 25% of American women are prescribed these classes of medication, few of them actually seek out a qualified mental health professional.

  • Misconceptions about antidepressant medications' effectiveness

  • Research on antidepressant medications shows those medications have little to no clinical effect beyond placebo for mild to moderate depression. Additionally, the medications are more effective at limiting negative pain rather than improving positive affect. In other words, antidepressants may help with a severe mood but do not change an individual's sense of isolation and loneliness. A medication cannot add meaning, peace or joy.

  • An often-untapped resource is the guidance of qualified mental health professors. When you feel emotionally overwhelmed, they often can often properly diagnose disorders and suggest long-term healthy habits with other effective mental health treatments to balance use of medication.

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  • Unwillingness to experience suffering

  • Finally, our culture negatively influences our ability to manage discomfort and pain. Despite the fact that humans are emotional beings, our culture values a life without suffering rather than a life learning to thrive with suffering. However, some parts of human suffering cannot be escaped. These cultural influences led to a profound statement by the famous psychologist, Carl Jung:

  • "The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering."

  • This does not mean individuals should seek out the kind of trauma that significantly wounds the soul. Rather, it means the avoidance and attempt to escape suffering can lead to additional emotional difficulties. For example, avoiding or withdrawing from anxiety often strengthens the anxiety's power. This behavior also increases the likelihood that one will keep avoiding difficult emotions in the future. This pattern is not exclusive to anxiety but is also prevalent in a variety of psychological and emotional struggles. Despite it being human nature to withdraw from suffering, this reaction is based on the instinctual assumption that all emotional friction should be and can be eliminated.

  • Carl Jung also suggested our culture's constant and sometimes unsuccessful attempts to eliminate discomfort may lead to feelings of inadequacy, depression and brokenness. This can potentially occur when psychotropic medications do not work. Think about what happens to an individual's sense of identity, control and competency when the use of psychotropic medications does not provide emotional relief. It's not hard to see that in some cases attempts to "fix" suffering lead to additional hopelessness, feelings of brokenness and deep despair.

  • A healthy mindset

  • In contrast to the use of medications for sub-clinical depression, it may be more effective to view one's moodiness, irritability and hopelessness as universal. Rather than seeking to eliminate these feelings, individuals may benefit from finding meaningful ways to explore, develop and accept a positive narrative regarding suffering. This can be done both individually and within relationships.

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Dr. Paul Murdock is a licensed psychologist and director of Theory & Therapy (www.theoryandtherapy.com) and Murdock Counseling Services. Contact him at

Website: http://www.theoryandtherapy.com, www.murdockcounseling.com

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