January 15, 2010

Hooked on Happy Pills (Mark)

Hooked on Happy Pills

I’m afraid this is a classic example of modern medicine treating the symptoms and not the causes! There’s been a couple of articles in the Daily Mail this week about anti-depressants and both shake this cornerstone of current British medical treatment in the UK. At last, given that the articles are based around a scientific research study, there may be a crack in the rather complacent way that the medical profession deal with depression.

The rise in anti-depressants being prescribed is frightening: from 9 million to 34 million over the last 15 years. What’s worse is that according to the article “scientists have long been stumped as to why they fail to help half of the people who take them”. In fact, I was under the impression that it is accepted in medical circles that only 30% of people get real benefit from anti-depressants. A research programme published in The Journal of The American Medical Association last week, came to the conclusion that medication has “negligible” impact except in cases of very severe depression.

When you consider the side effects below, it is staggering that these pills can be handed out so willy nilly”!

Firstly, whilst not strictly addictive, people find them very difficult to get off. Many of my clients have been on them for 5+ years, some even over 10. The NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines are that patients should be on them for a maximum of 9 months on the first occasion and a maximum of 2 years for those experiencing further depression. The research by University of Southampton referred to in one of the articles, estimates that 2 million people are taking them for more than 5 years, the largest group being women between 18 and 45.   In fact, it is now commonplace for people to think they will be on them for the rest of their lives, just like medication for epilepsy or diabetes.

…which brings us to the second issue about side effects: the commonly known short –term side effects, which doctors do by and large make their patients aware of include drowsiness, dizziness and weight gain. Interestingly, I find that virtually none of my clients are aware that a common side effect is the increased likelihood of suicide. The first time I read that when I was looking up a client’s drug in a formulary book, I did a double take: “you mean they’re giving pills that increase the likelihood of suicide to some people who are already contemplating that course of action anyway!!!!!” Well the answer’s yes!

And yet in terms of longer-term side effects, research is now finding that anti-depressants can cause internal bleeding, strokes and birth defects, which has brought some disturbing parallels with “the mother’s little helper” scandal of the 70’s and 80’.

Let’s stand back a minute. Depression is an emotional problem, playing around with the body/mind’s chemistry for the long-term is bound to have some major side effects. Why does medicine have to be all about medication? I was amazed to find out that the most important A level for a prospective medical student is Chemistry…well that says it all! Surely biology is more important?!

To be fair, the NICE guidelines state that “the optimum treatment for depression is a combination of medication and talking therapies. I would argue that only talking therapies are going to help the patient overcome whatever it is that is depressing them. Medication should only be a short-term measure helping the sufferer with “mood”, while they solve the problem psychologically.

Again to be fair, doctors have an average of 7 minutes with a patient, which is completely insufficient for mental health issues, so of course the doctors end up handing over a prescription…what else can they do in 7 minutes? However, we should have realised that the system is selling people short years ago: 70% of doctors’ visits are for mental health issues. It is my humble opinion that science, the medical profession and the politicians (clearly the NHS has to change dramatically…it was set up to handle emergencies and diseases) have been too complacent about the issue of anti-depressants for too long.

Maybe, just maybe, they’ll start having a look at existing practices and wonder if a radical overhaul isn’t required. The real solutions for permanent escape from issues like depression, stress, anxiety, Eating Disorders and Self Harm are Hypnotherapy and NLP…but the medical profession is a million miles from accepting that at the moment. But this is a huge issue and changes aren’t going to come overnight. What is more, this is one change amongst a whole plethora of changes that need to take place if Western Civilisation is to become liveable again. But that’s for another day!

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