Women Who Self-Medicate for Depression and Anxiety are Doing More Harm than Good

Women Who Self-Medicate for Depression and Anxiety are Doing More Harm than Good

According to the most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control, some of the highest rates of clinical depression occur in the Gulf Coast; Louisiana is at the top of that list along with Mississippi and Alabama. Additionally, women are twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression compared to men and, because most affordable insurance plans do not include coverage for psychiatrists, you’ve got a lethal combination for a disease which, if left untreated, can not only seriously affect the woman who suffers from it, but also her entire family. Nevertheless, there is a solution that is cost efficient and avoids the stigma of psychological care on your health record. According to Dr. Christy Valentine, all it takes is an honest conversation with your primary care physician.

Dr. Valentine
Dr. Valentine

Women today are not only mothers, but also professionals as well as wives, sisters and daughters. The challenge of fulfilling each role is daunting and juggling all of them sometimes makes us feel inadequate if we feel we’re not living up to our own standards let alone the expectations of our peers and our family. This can easily translate into what could become a vicious downward spiral. Anxiety can lead to changes in eating, sleep patterns and affect our daily routine; once that sets in, so does the depression where we stop paying attention to ourselves with the hopes of satisfying others. Unfortunately, this can lead to self-medication with drugs and alcohol in order to avoid the bad feelings and the humbling task of seeking out psychiatric care.

Dr. Valentine, who is a primary care physician with specialties in internal medicine and pediatrics, explained that becoming depressed doesn’t happen overnight and the symptoms are often more initially physical. “With this disease, it whispers at you before it really starts to scream,” said Valentine. “People will often come in with a physical manifestation; they’ll be experiencing fatigue and some women complain about back pain.” Depression doesn’t occur at an average age in anyone, but usually surrounds life-altering experiences, such as moving out of a parent’s home, loss of a job or, for someone who is very independent, taking on the responsibility of marriage. “Anytime you’re involved in life-changing events that you’re not comfortable with, it can lead to problems with depression,” explained Valentine who likened addressing emotional issues to losing air pressure while flying. “You need to put your mask on before trying to help anyone else. Be true to yourself and do things that make you happy, not just because it interests your husband or your child.”

Other than just familiarity, talking to your primary care physician is beneficial because they know your entire medical history and can confirm that there’s nothing physically wrong prior to exploring other treatments. Valentine said she might notice changes in patients after their last visit and that opens up the conversation. She noted that treating depression or anxiety with medication is not a lifetime commitment. “We’re treating you at this moment and we’ll re-evaluate the situation in a few months and find a time that’s right for you to stop taking medication,” said Valentine. “A lot of people fear that they’re going to be on medication the rest of their lives and never be able to be normal without it. We educate them and tell them that there are true chemical imbalances that can make you not function well…when it affects your everyday life experiences, that’s the time to come in so we can head it off.”

Drugs, alcohol or a combination of both is not the solution to the problem
Drugs, alcohol or a combination of both is not the solution to the problem

By the time women make an appointment with Dr. Valentine to discuss their mental state, they already know something is definitely wrong and are sometimes self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. “If you have to ask yourself if you’re drinking too much—when otherwise it wouldn’t cross your mind—maybe you are,” said Valentine. “People also do not want to have prescriptions in their own name, thinking that it will haunt them and they will get medication like Valium and Xanax from other people.” Drugs and alcohol wreak havoc on a good night’s sleep, adding another element to an already vicious depressive cycle.

Even at that point, some women would rather calm their anxiety alone than seeking out help. “Women do not like to say that they need help because if they can’t do it themselves, then they must not be a good mom or wife. They think that no one else is having these same problems and if everyone else is doing good, why can’t they do it too.”

Valentine urges women who feel as if something just isn’t right to see their doctor immediately. She describes herself as a “professional secret-keeper” —as all primary care physicians should be—and believes that support from someone who treats both your mind and body is invaluable. “You can only give the people around you what you have…if you feel positive and confident, you can pass that on, but if you don’t, there’s no way you can pass that on to your family. It’s important that someone is looking at the whole you to make sure you’re a healthy person both mentally and physically.”

For more information, visit Dr. Valentine's website.