Way beyond prozac

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research update

The statistics on depression are downright depressing. According to the National Mental Health Association, some 12 million American women suffer from clinical depression in any given year and one in five will experience it sometime in her lifetime. While depression is an equal opportunity affliction, it occurs most frequently in women ages 25 to 44, affecting twice as many women as men. Many factors increase a woman's chance of experiencing depression, including genetic predisposition, hormonal shifts, the stresses of balancing work and family and a history of domestic violence or sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, only about half of all depressed women will seek professional help, and for those who do, the treatment often comes in the form of a pill, such as Prozac or Zoloft. Currently, more than 30 million people are taking Prozac, ranking it among the top 10 most prescribed drugs in the country. Recent findings, however, suggest that the Prozac tide may be turning.

Results of a nationwide survey conducted by Harvard scientists (American Journal of Psychiatry, February 2001) showed that depression sufferers are looking increasingly to nonconventional treatments. In fact, researchers found depression to be one of the conditions most likely to prompt a person to try alternative therapies. According to lead author Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., "Everybody is getting on the alternative therapy bandwagon." The survey indicated that the most popular alternative treatments were relaxation techniques, such as meditation, spiritual healing (prayer) and self-help groups.

Respondents also reported turning to herbal remedies, vitamin therapy, massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga and diet changes. Results of the survey indicate that more than half of those who experimented with alternative treatments did so without the guidance of a holistic practitioner, which raises an important issue. In the case of depression, a healthcare professional should always be consulted before taking any herbs or supplements because side effects may occur if they are combined with prescription medications. Kessler discovered that only a small percentage told their doctor about using alternative therapies for depression because they feared being labeled a "kook," but had their doctor inquired, they would have confessed. "The fact that doctors don't ask," Kessler explains, "indicates an extraordinary lack of awareness on their part. One out of four patients is doing something in addition to what her doctor has prescribed, yet physicians seem wholly unfamiliar with this--that the world is changing."

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By Maria Rabat

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