1 in 6 Americans Are Now on Psychiatric Medication

Recent research shows that American doctors are still overprescribing many different kinds of drugs,1 especially antibiotics and opioid pain killers, despite repeated calls for prudence.

U.S. health care expenses have also risen, hitting $3.2 trillion annually as of 2015, and rising prescription prices combined with overprescribing are significant drivers of these rising costs, according to a government report.2,3,4,5

While psychiatric drugs were not included in that report, statistics reveal a very clear trend of overprescribing here as well. According to recent research, 1 in 6 Americans are now on antidepressants or some other type of psychiatric drug, and most appear to be taking them long-term.6,7,8,9,10

That’s quite an extraordinary number, and a significant increase, nearly doubled, from 2011 when 1 in 10 American adults reported using a psychiatric drug.11 According to lead author Thomas J. Moore, a researcher at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices:12

“To discover that 8 in 10 adults who have taken psychiatric drugs are using them long term raises safety concerns, given that there’s reason to believe some of this continued use is due to dependence and withdrawal symptoms.”

Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, commented on the findings saying it reflects a growing reliance on prescription medications to manage common emotional problems.

Psychiatric Drugs Are Overprescribed

Other recent research shows that anti-anxiety benzodiazepine drugs accounted for nearly one-third of the 23,000 prescription overdoses in 2013.

According to researchers, part of the problem appears to be that primary care physicians are under-educated on the risks associated with psychiatric drugs. As reported by Scientific American:13

“For antidepressants, there is limited information available about how long an individual should stay on the drug … For certain drugs in the sedative, hypnotic and anxiolytic category, however, people can become dependent, the researchers noted.

To improve the safety of psychiatric drugs, Moore and Mattison suggested increasing the emphasis on prescribing these medications at the lowest effective dose and continually re-assessing the need to keep individuals on the drugs.”

Declining Mental Health Is a Wake Up Call for Psychiatry

While prescriptions for psychiatric drugs are increasing,14 several parameters show that mental health in the U.S. is declining.15

Suicide rates are at a 30-year high, prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths have become a public health emergency and mental disorders are now the second most common cause of disability, having risen sharply since 1980.16

All of these statistics suggest that far from being helpful, the availability of psychiatric drugs and the ease of getting them are making the situation worse.

Sure, these drugs may be helpful for a small minority of people with very severe mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, but clearly, the vast majority of people using these drugs do not suffer from severe psychiatric illness.

Most are struggling with sadness, grief, anxiety, “the blues” and depression, which are in many ways part of your body’s communication system, revealing nutritional or sunlight deficiencies and/or spiritual disconnect, for example.

The underlying reasons for these kinds of troubles are manifold, but you can be sure that, whatever the cause, an antidepressant, sedative or antipsychotic will not correct it.

Better Treatment Alternatives Are Sorely Needed

As noted by Dr. Edmund S. Higgins, a psychiatrist who has authored a number of articles and books on psychiatry:17

“The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and [Big Pharma] explain the deterioration of mental health nationally by proposing that not enough people are getting treatment. But this suggestion seems a bit self-serving.

Another explanation points to the vague nature of psychiatric diagnoses … [M]ental disorders … seem to expand and contract with the economy. Thus, changes in the prevalence of mental disorders may not necessarily reflect changes in the biology of mental illness.

It is also possible that we are hampered by not having new treatments for patients seeking help. As it turns out, drugs developed in the past 20 years perform like older medications …

[I]t is paramount that we discover new mechanisms to treat mental illness …  [T]here is one unique, promising treatment that is struggling to get approval: psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

Preliminary evidence suggests that drugs such as LSD and psilocybin could be used episodically, together with psychotherapy, to enhance the healing process.”

Treatments Scientifically Validated as Being the Most Effective Are Typically Ignored

Research suggests that one of the most effective treatments for depression is exercise, a healthy lifestyle strategy that few people are engaging in on a routine basis these days. That in and of itself may be a reason for our declining mental health. Diet and certain nutritional deficiencies — especially vitamin D and omega-3 deficiencies — have also been shown to play very important roles.

One of the reasons why your diet is so important is because it affects your gut microbiome, for better or worse. Many studies have demonstrated that improving the diversity and increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut can have dramatic impact on your mental health, boosting mood and reducing your risk for more serious mental health problems.

Some researchers in this field even refer to probiotics as “psychobiotics,” noting that dietary treatments for mood disorders may be part of the future of psychiatry. In addition to eating real food and avoiding processed foods as much as possible, be sure to eat plenty of fiber — which help nourish important bacteria — and a variety of traditionally fermented foods, which help reseed your gut with beneficial bacteria.

Vitamins and Supplements Boost Effectiveness of Antidepressants

Considering the fact that antidepressants have the clinical effectiveness of a placebo, is it any wonder that nutritional supplements can “boost” their effectiveness? That’s exactly what a recent study found. The meta-analysis, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, looked at 40 clinical trials in which supplements were added to the drug regimen.20,21,22

The following four supplements were found to improve the impact of the medication — which included serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants — compared to medication only:

  • Fish oil
  • Vitamin D
  • Methylfolate (an effective form of folic acid)
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

Fish oil produced the most significant improvement. Interestingly, while docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is typically credited with being the most important omega-3 fat for brain health, here, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) was found to have the most prominent effect. The best way to get these fats is from small fish like sardines and anchovies. If that is not an option then krill oil is a far superior choice to fish oil as it is better absorbed and less oxidized.

In my view, it would have been far more interesting to see how these supplements might have fared without the use of medication, as the supplements could very well have been the true benefit. After all, studies have shown that both omega-3 and vitamin D can help improve mental health all on their own, and if the medication doesn’t add anything of real value, why risk your health and wellbeing by taking it?

Overcoming Depression Without Drugs

Research has revealed there are a number of safe and effective ways to address depression that do not involve drugs. So, if you suffer from an anxiety- or depression-related disorder, please consider addressing the following diet and lifestyle factors before resorting to a psychiatric drug:

Eat real food and avoid all processed foods, sugar (particularly fructose), grains and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

High-sugar and starchy non-fiber carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can result in falling blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). In turn, hypoglycemia causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety and panic attacks. Sugar also fans the flames of inflammation in your body.

In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Gluten sensitivity is also a common, hidden cause of depression, so going on a gluten-free diet can be part of the answer.

Increase consumption of traditionally fermented and cultured foods

Reducing gut inflammation is imperative when addressing mental health issues,23 so optimizing your gut flora is a critical piece. To promote healthy gut flora, increase your consumption of probiotic foods such as fermented vegetables, kimchee, natto, kefir and others.

Get adequate vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects 1 in 4 people.

Optimize your vitamin D levels

Vitamin D is very important for your mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to sunlight deficiency, so it would make sense that the perfect way to optimize your vitamin D is through UV exposure. Be sure to check your levels (via blood test) at least once or twice a year.

Get plenty of high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats

Your brain is 60 percent fat, and both DHA and EPA are crucial for good brain function and mental health.24,25 Unfortunately, most people don’t get enough from diet alone, so make sure you take a high-quality omega-3 supplement.

I recommend small sea foods like sardines and anchovies and if that is not possible then krill oil, which has a number of benefits over fish oil, including better absorption.26

Beneficial herbs and supplements: SAMe, 5-HTP and St. John’s Wort

SAMe is an amino acid derivative that occurs naturally in all cells. It plays a role in many biological reactions by transferring its methyl group to DNA, proteins, phospholipids and biogenic amines. Several scientific studies indicate that SAMe may be useful in the treatment of depression. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is another natural alternative to traditional antidepressants.

When your body sets about manufacturing serotonin, it first makes 5-HTP. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement may raise serotonin levels. The evidence suggests 5-HTP outperforms a placebo when it comes to alleviating depression27 — more than can be said about antidepressants.

Evaluate your salt intake

Sodium deficiency actually creates symptoms that are very much like those of depression. Make sure you do NOT use processed salt (regular table salt), however. You’ll want to use an all-natural, unprocessed salt like Himalayan salt, which contains more than 80 different micronutrients.

Get adequate daily exercise

Studies reveal a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. There’s also a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.

Exercising creates new GABA-producing neurons that help induce a natural state of calm. It also boosts your levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which help buffer the effects of stress.

Get enough sleep

If you aren’t sleeping well you can easily become depressed. Sleep and depression are so intimately linked that a sleep disorder is actually part of the definition of the symptom complex that gives the label depression. Most of us need a minimum of seven hours every night and eight would be better.

Use energy psychology

Energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), can be very effective for reducing symptoms of depression or anxiety by correcting the bioelectrical short-circuiting that causes your body’s reactions, without adverse effects.