Can Taking Medication Alone Fix Anxiety and Depression?  

By Patrick O’Neil, Group Facilitator, CAST Centers

Are you depressed? Do you suffer from anxiety? Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, while another 25 million suffer from depression. And while anxiety and depression are not mutually exclusive, what they definitely have in common is that 75% of those adults, with either, or both depression and anxiety, do not seek help.

There are many treatment options available for depression and anxiety, but how well the treatment works depends on the type of depression or anxiety and its severity. Unfortunately the impression most people have in regards to getting help from a medical professional is that the doctor or psychiatrist prescribes you a pill and your anxiety and depression immediately goes away—almost magically—and while antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications do help, they are not the cure.

In her article, “Can Antidepressants Cure Depression?” Depression Expert Nancy Schimelpfening writes, “The reason that antidepressants aren’t able to provide a permanent cure for depression lies in how they work. Antidepressants target one or more of the neurotransmitters which are believed to be involved in regulating mood, allowing a greater quantity of these neurotransmitters to remain available for use within the brain and theoretically making up for any deficiencies which might be causing a person’s depression symptoms. This effect is only temporary, however. When you stop taking the antidepressant, your brain chemistry will return to its previous state.” 

Yet this “temporary” fix isn’t the only issue with medications as Dr. Susan Heitler, in her Psychology Today article titled, “Anxiety Treatment: Should You Be Wary of Anxiety Medication?” where she warns of the addictive concerns for the drugs prescribed to combat anxiety; “Using anti-anxiety medications for any reason over many months or years invites addiction problems. While brief use to calm a short-term episode of overwhelming anxiety may be worthwhile, wariness is appropriate. Easing one difficulty—anxiety— by causing an equal or worse difficulty—addiction—is inappropriate.”

This is not to say that when your doctor or psychiatrist suggests medication for your depression or anxiety that you should say no. But it is important you know as much as you can about the medications they suggest. For many the right medication can be helpful. However, while medications can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, they won’t “fix” whatever else has been going on in your life that is adversely affecting your mood. Depression and anxiety are usually the result from a combination of recent events and other longer-term or personal factors—rather than one immediate distressful experience. Family, relationships, trauma, addiction, abuse, and serious illness are just a few of the emotionally loaded aspects of our lives that can cause an overwhelming sense of depression or trigger anxiety. Getting to the heart and matter of why someone is so overwhelmingly affected is where it can be very beneficial to seek out professional help for dealing with these issues.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests, “Treatment may be complicated for those with more than one anxiety disorder or suffering from coexisting conditions such as depression. This is why treatment must be tailored to each person.” For most people, therapy and medications produce better results together than either of them alone. In his study, “Adding Psychotherapy to Antidepressant Medication in Depression and Anxiety Disorders,” Pim Cuijpers, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Vrije University in Amsterdam writes, “We found clear evidence that combined treatment with psychotherapy and antidepressant medication is more effective than treatment with antidepressant medication alone.”

While Dr. Paula Young, Staff Therapist and Head of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Services at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, further confirms this with her study titled, “Combining Antidepressants, Therapy May Be a Powerful Treatment Option for Major Therapy,” in which she concludes, “The results of this study suggest the importance of tailoring treatment for depression. The recovery rates for patients who received combination therapy were better than for those who received medication alone.”

So exactly how does this “combination therapy” work for you? The treatment that’s right for you will depend on how bad your depression and anxiety is, your symptoms, and what is happening in your life. The best way for you to decide where and how to seek help is to gain an understanding of the variety of options that are available for treating your depression or anxiety, and then consult a professional to help determine what treatment would work best. Outpatient treatment, group therapy, and individual therapeutic sessions are all recommended forms of treatment that work well combined with medication. Many clinicians and therapists are trained in more than one kind of therapy, so ask your clinician or outpatient program what kind of therapy they practice and how it can help you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: is often used in treating anxiety disorders. CBT helps you change your thought patterns and reactions to situations that cause you anxiety.

Group Therapy: lets you work through your problems by interacting with a therapist and a group of individuals with similar issues.

Psychodynamic Therapy: helps you establish the unresolved and at times unconscious conflicts that are often formed in childhood. By talking about these experiences you begin to understand the origins of your anxiety and depression and through that understanding you learn to cope and live with them

Interpersonal Therapy: focuses on your behaviors and interactions in your relationships in order to promote self-esteem and improve communication.

Support Groups: help you maintain an ongoing support network, and similar to group therapy, are comprised of “a group of individuals with similar issues” that you can utilize after you have completed a program or while in therapy. These groups may be alumni groups from your treatment center, organized 12 Step meetings, or a singularly focused mental health group, such as grief and loss, or an LGBTQ support group.   

Whether you utilize some form of therapy or the combination of therapy and medication the primary objective is that you are obtaining the help that you need to address your anxiety and depression. Untreated your depression and anxiety can lead to emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every aspect of your life. Over 25,000 people who have depression and anxiety take their lives each year. If you feel that your depression and anxiety have become so overwhelming that you feel hopeless, isolated, and fearful, then it is time to ask for help. With the right treatment you will no longer have to suffer. 

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