Illustrations: Dan Howden

Everyone is on Antidepressants Right Now. Is That OK?

Medication can be life-altering — for those who actually need it

Jennifer King Lindley
Published in
11 min readJul 22, 2020

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At first, Lisa, a writer in Minneapolis, experienced a “honeymoon period” of quarantine. “I was good at finding amusements like sketching, creating little things to look forward to like takeout from a favorite restaurant,” she says. But weeks in, “I hit a wall. My work dried up for a while. I struggled with feelings of isolation and uncertainty about the world. Everything felt meaningless. I was without the usual ways to keep sociable or distract myself. I stopped even setting my alarm. Why get up?”

Lisa had been seeing a therapist for several years for help managing her anxiety and had learned “mostly healthy coping skills,” she says. “But this hopelessness felt difficult to manage on my own. The world felt heavier. I thought, ‘I can do all the yoga and meditation and journaling in the world, but I will still be in that hopeless place.’” Her therapist thought Lisa was suffering from depression and encouraged her to try medication; a nurse practitioner at her doctor’s office prescribed Lexapro, a commonly used selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant.

Lisa has lots of company. In June, the Food and Drug Administration made headlines when it added the SSRI Zoloft to the drug shortage list. Prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications shot up 21% between February and March 2020 alone, according to industry data. Even before the world turned upside down, a whopping 11% of Americans in 2019 were taking an antidepressant.

Are antidepressants… “medicalizing” a perfectly rational reaction to this unprecedented shitstorm?

Psychiatrists point out that this current leap in scripts is not all first-timers like Lisa, newly driven to despair by Covid-19. According to Jessi Gold, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, “the rise is partly due to current patients needing their doses increased and returning patients going back on treatment who had been feeling good for a while.” The good news is that many people are seeking needed help. Yet this huge increase also…

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Jennifer King Lindley
Elemental

writes about health and psychology for O, Real Simple, Health, Prevention, and many other outlets. South Bend, Indiana. jenniferkinglindley.com