If 1 in 4 Women Is Really Using Mental Health Drugs, We have a Problem that Drugs Won't Fix.

What Women Really Think
Nov. 17 2011 11:03 AM

1 in 4 Women Cannot Possibly Need Mental Health Drugs

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From left to right, the antidepressant pills Wellbutrin, Paxil, Lexapro, Effexor, Zoloft, and Fluoxetine

Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The ads are so tempting. Use Drug A for a better tomorrow! Feeling unfocused? How about Drug B for that brain imbalance? Exhausted, hopeless, anxious? Drug C! According to a report from MedCo, a pharmacy benefit manager, one out of every four women has a prescription for some form of mental health medication, whether it's for depression, ADHD, anxiety or something else. One in four. Apparently, a whole lot of us want to feel better, happier, clearer, different. 

I haven't looked at the methodology of this report, but if it's right, or even close, that number is stunning. One in four of us has a doctor who's convinced that she needs some form of drug, at least some of the time, to be normal. And so one in four of us probably agrees with that assessment.

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That cannot be right. "Normal," whatever that is, can't possibly be a state that 25 percent of women can only reach with the assistance of a prescription. I've no doubt at all that there are people out there who've benefitted enormously from prescription drug treatments for mental health disorders, and I'm not making light of their needs. HuffPo has a long, careful interview with a doctor from Medco, who dances thoughtfully around the trouble with being outraged by this statistic: If one in four is too many, then some women out there don't need what they've got, and some doctors out there are far too free with their prescription pads. No one wants to say that, at least not to a doctor or a woman with a well-stocked medicine cabinet. And at a rate of one in four, that's a whole lot of women and doctors.

But one in four is too many. Even if there are bottles and bottles of medicine sitting unused. Even if some of those prescriptions went unfilled. One in four suggests that either women, or our doctors, are being sold on an ideal of mental health that's unrealistic. We don't need more prescriptions. We need to revisit what ordinary, erratic, imperfect mental health means. 

KJ Dell'Antonia is a writer living in New Hampshire. She writes the EcoLiving column for Kiwi magazine and is the co-author ofReading With Babies, Toddlers and Twos: Choosing, Reading and Loving Books Together.

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