The other day, I read an interesting article on the New York Times’ Sunday Review by Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist who is practicing in NYC. In her article, she talked about how women are being overmedicated with anti-depressants that keep them away from being in touch with their emotionality, which she said by nature is a sign of women’s health and power (It should be noted here that, as a psychiatrist herself, she is not against medication. She believes that anti-depressants and other psychotropics do save some women’s lives, but for others, they are not necessary.)
Here are some startling numbers from her article that are really concerning to me:
- 1 out of 4 women are taking psychiatric medication, compared to 1 out of 7 men.
- Women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorder than men.
- Sales of antidepressants and anxiety meds have been booming in the past decades, with Abilify being the #1 seller among all drugs in the U.S.
Much as I agree with her that psychiatric medication is being overused to the point of abuse in America, I don’t really appreciate her essentialist idea of women and their emotionality. Emotionality is not just a sign of women’s health and power, it is everyone’s sign of health and power. Holland may cite some scientific research saying that women’s brain has more capacity for emotion than men, but as we are gendered so early in our development, who is to say that that difference is the product of nature, not nurture?
Men are not emotionless aliens, even though they may be conditioned to suppressed and ignored their emotions. The stigma against depression is detrimental to women and prevents them from seeking treatment, but it is even more so to men, considering how society always expects them to be bold, strong, and invincible.
I have a male friend here at Randolph who has gone through a period of depression, self-injury, and suicidal ideation (It was really nice of him to share it with me and if he happens to read this post, he should know that I appreciate him immensely). His first suicidal attempt was in third-grade, the second in seventh-grade, and several more during high school. Having lived with depression for a very long time without his parents knowing, he didn’t seek treatment until he was hospitalized for suicidal attempt and the hospital prescribed him Prozac and then Wellbutrin. Speaking of that depression period more openly now, he said he was embarrassed then to seek treatment, thinking that it was lame and ineffective. And while he did talk to a counselor at school, it didn’t really help, either. Again, he acknowledged that because he was embarrassed and reticent about his problems, he didn’t tell the counselor enough to help him.
Depression is a serious problem here in this country, and it is alarmingly on the rise. However, gender may not be the key determinant, as Dr. Holland argued. Coming from a culture where everyone has a much less intense working environment and more leisure time (yes, we are poorer, but we have a much higher rate of life satisfaction), I only experienced or observed mild cases of depression that can be dealt with by counseling or joining a supportive social group. Antidepressants are almost nonexistent and people really try to find different ways to help an individual with depression before they have to resort to medication.
That’s why when I came here, I was so amazed that many people frequent their psychiatrists and take medication on a daily basis, so that they can go through one busy day after another like a “normal” person. There is something about the idea of medication in order to work and function, rather than to enjoy life, that is just unsettling to me, as if the pharmaceutical industry (within this competitive culture) is keeping the workforce in line for other productive activities. According to the Bureau of Labor, there are twice as many psychiatrists in this country than psychologists. Does it mean that people would rather seek instant solution to their depression than talking through their problems?
I can go on and on about this topic, but I’d rather hear from you than myself speaking in monologue. Suffice it to say, I believe that depression is not just a women’s problem, it is a cultural problem that requires more than just psychiatrists and psychologists to solve.