First Health Warning of 2010: Antidepressants

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Well, it's the beginning of a new year - a time when we take a closer look at ourselves try to figure out what we can do to make this year better than the last. But it's alsoa time when many people are hit with seasonal affective disorder as we begin the decent from our holiday high. It's no surprise that antidepressants are among the most prescribed drugs in the United States. In fact, as we reported back in August, the number of Americans taking antidepressants has doubled in only a decade. Many Americans feel we are over-medicated, and according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there may be some truth to that sentiment. It was a small study - but an important one - because what it showed was that common antidepressants may not be as effective for mild to moderate depression, and that these patients could benefit from alternative treatments like psychotherapy, counseling, talk therapy, etc. without the risks associated with these medications. Interestingly enough, another new study out of the Archives of General Psychiatryfound that about 60 percent of the time, psychiatrists are prescribing more than one drug at a time to their patients. Many mental disorders go hand-in-hand, so often patients can be afflicted with two or more, and may need a combination of drugs to help them cope with their symptoms. So there is evidence that for some patients, a combination of psychotropic drugs can be very beneficial, but it brings us back to the fact that the way we monitor those patients is key. Internists and primary care physicians often prescribe these medications for their patients, but it's vital that the patient receive therapy from a professional to evaluate progress and observe any negative side effects, because many of these drugs have serious risks. This is especially important for the adolescent population, because children are being put on these medications more and more. But patients are not the only ones who need to be monitored -- we have to be careful that the agenda to treat mental illness does not become big business driven by the pharmaceutical companies so that we don't become a society dependent on pills!