Have feelings become something to avoid? Have we become a society where it’s socially unacceptable to show emotions? For women especially, emotions can be viewed negatively. In the workplace, for instance, women worry about being seen as sensitive, emotional or high-strung (words almost never applied to men, by the way). Crying at the office can be a career killer, and even in social situations, the message can be clear not to get too emotional as it makes others uncomfortable. So what do we do to keep all those feelings in check? We take mood stabilizers that don’t just even out our moods, they sometimes make them nonexistent.
New York City psychiatrist Julie Holland, the author of Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy, has a lot to say on the subject. In an opinion piece for CNN.com titled “Are Drugs Stifling Women,” she cited a study that showed Americans are about 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we take half its pills – 80 percent of its painkillers. In a CNN opinion piece, Holland suggests that a new normal has been created by the widespread use of prescription meds. “The overuse of psychiatric medication is called cosmetic psychopharmacology, and it’s like cosmetic surgery: as more women get breast implants, the rest of us feel flat chested.”
The Benefits of Rx Meds
While so-called “cosmetic psychopharmacology”, it’s equally dangerous to paint all prescription drugs as bad. There are a number of medications that are life-saving to those who suffer from very real mental health disorders. For those who have been professionally diagnosed with bi-polar, clinical depression or other issues, medication makes all the difference, and going off it can cause serious problems. It’s when they’re overused or misused that problems arise.
Back to Where It All Began
It’s not a new issue. The widespread use of anti-depressants gained attention back in the 1970s when there was concern that doctors were prescribing valium to housewives in dangerous numbers. “Mommy’s little helper” as it was dubbed, may be to blame for starting the avalanche of affordable, accessible (and sometimes unnecessary) prescription drugs. And the more women heard about this drug trend, the more they began to wonder if they were the only one not doing it. The truth is, while prescription drugs may seem ubiquitous, not everyone’s jumping on board. And for those who are regularly medicated, we’re not spending enough time asking if these meds are really making a positive difference.
Others trace the surge in prescription drug overuse to the Federal Drug Administration’s decision shortly into the new millennium to allow drug companies to advertise their products on TV. It led to patients practically becoming prescribers, seeking out their doctors and requesting specific medications featured in an ad.
The pharmaceutical industry spends billions in payments to physicians and direct to consumer advertising. In fact, nine out of 10 pharmaceutical companies spend less on research and development than they do on marketing, Holland claims. With that kind of hard sell, it’s easy to see why women are feeling pressured into taking powerful medications without understanding how they work and what they do.
There has been some backlash, though. A recent UCLA study published in the Annals of Family Medicine came down hard on these advertisements. It found that pharma ads are so suggestive that they’re influencing Americans to believe that we are sicker than we really are—and, as a result, we’re taking medicine we don’t need, Bloomberg.com reports.
Pharma ads are so suggestive that they’re influencing Americans to believe that we are sicker than we really are—and, as a result, we’re taking medicine we don’t need.
As Nature Intended?
A popular group of antidepressants, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), are used to artificially do something our bodies were designed to do naturally: manage serotonin levels, the brain chemical that helps regulate mood. While we’ve all received the message loud and clear that not enough is bad, we’re rarely told that too much can also cause issues. An overabundance of serotonin “can dampen empathy and emotional reactivity, while higher doses can engender apathy,” Holland warns.
Women (and men) have moods. That natural rise and fall is normal and all part of how we’re wired. That up and down actually serves a purpose, helping to keep us adaptable and responsive to the world around us. In fact, many of these emotions that are less acceptable today are positive traits that help us succeed in daily life. Sensitivity can help ensure our survival and make us aware of the needs of those in our care, a trait particularly important for mothers. And tears or feelings of dissatisfaction are healthy signs that something is wrong. If we’re not able to feel or express those emotions, how will we know when issues need to be addressed?
You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge (thank you, Dr. Phil!), and change can only come once there’s an awareness that something is wrong. Negative emotions aren’t always symptoms to be medicated. It can be tempting to take a pill to fix what we see as “wrong” with us. But as medication has become more prevalent, our attitude toward it becomes more cavalier, making it easier to misuse or abuse medications that were meant to help a specific segment of the population. So before you fill that prescription, make sure what you’re taking is necessary and beneficial for your specific situation.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction and a co-occurring disorder, call us today. We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can provide information on treatment programs, help with insurance and answer questions about the treatment process.