Depression 2020

An Article from the AMEN CLINICS

In the pandemic, depression is hitting Americans harder than COVID-19. A new study from JAMA Network Open found that half of U.S. adults are experiencing some symptoms of depression. That’s 3 times higher than the pre-pandemic rate.

These statistics are depressing and will contribute to a legacy of mental health problems. But there’s one industry that’s happy about the alarming trend—the pharmaceutical industry.


In 1987, with the FDA approval of the blockbuster antidepressant (fluoxetine) Prozac, the mind-drug revolution began to dominate psychiatry. Since the launch of Prozac, antidepressant use in the U.S. has increased by 400% and more than 1 in 10 Americans now takes one. Antidepressants are the second most commonly prescribed drug in the United States, just after cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to a paper in the American Psychological Association.

After the global success of Prozac, the “chemical imbalance” theory of mental illness burst into the public consciousness, and many people began proactively asking their doctors to fix their low moods with pills. Famously, after actress Carrie Fisher was cremated, her ashes were placed in a green and white Prozac-pill shaped urn.

Taking pills may seem like an easier and quicker solution to bad moods than taking the time and effort to develop brain-healthy habits, build skills, or change troublesome behavior. Yet, there is a dark side to the mind-meds that is often overlooked. Thousands of lawsuits claim that Prozac and other psychiatric medications increase violent or suicidal behavior. Virtually all antidepressants and anti-psychotic medications have black box warnings, which, in simple terms means the FDA cautions patients in the strongest terms to pay close attention to potentially extremely harmful or dangerous threats to their health.

At Amen Clinics, we have published papers on depression (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease), as well as on ADD/ADHD (Journal of Psychoactive Drugs), revealing the SPECT patterns that are associated with both positive and negative responses to medications.


Despite the problems, the pharmaceutical industry is incredibly successful at marketing psychiatric medications to doctors and the general public. From 1996 to 2005, the industry tripled its marketing budget with a 500% increase in direct-to-consumer advertising.

Prescription drug ads often do not adequately explain side effects, and because of repeated exposure, many people tune out those statements at the end of TV commercials, often delivered in a rapid-fire manner, such as, “This drug may cause permanent liver damage, seizures, an allergic reaction that leads to fatal throat swelling and suicidal tendencies.”

Patients in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to ask for drugs seen in ads compared with those in Canada, where most direct-to-consumer advertising is prohibited.

There is no doubt that psychiatric medication saves lives, especially for people who have more serious mental health disorders (which are really brain health issues), such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Yet, it’s critical to be cautious with antidepressants, because once they are started, they can be hard to stop, and they do not just reset your brain, they change it.

A 2017 Oxford University study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found most SSRIs—such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro—do not just decrease negative emotions, they reduce all emotions, including love, happiness, and joy. Participants felt separated from their surroundings and cared less about important things in their daily lives. They felt like their personalities had changed.


One of the most disturbing trends is that nearly 85% of psychiatric medications are prescribed by primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants in short office visits; and 72% of these prescriptions are accompanied by no diagnosis in the charts, according to research in Health Affairs.

These medical professionals often do not have the time or specialized training to develop comprehensive treatment plans or to tell you about more natural and safer solutions. Some primary care physicians do a wonderful job handling mental health issues, while others cause more harm than needed.


As record numbers of people experience depression due to the pandemic, our society does not need more of the same in terms of treatment. When it comes to depression, we need skills, not just pills.

It’s time for a new way forward that is rooted in neuroscience and hope. Depression and other psychiatric issues really are so much more than just a “mental illness.” Your brain creates your mind. The issues that affect your mind stem from your brain, your body, your thoughts, your social and work interactions with others, and your deepest sense of meaning and purpose. To fully heal from depression, you need to address all of these factors. Only then can you feel the way you’d like to feel and live the life you desire.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

Amen Clinics offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples.

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