by Rachel Burt, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at Roswell OB/GYN………………………………….
Over the past week, I have been overwhelmed by media reports addressing women’s usage of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. This month’s Parenting magazine article entitled Xanax Makes Me a Better Mom highlighted several mothers and their usage of medication to manage anxiety and depression. The article sparked enough controversy that Katie Couric and Anderson Cooper hosted shows on the same topic.
After reading and listening to these news reports, I was left with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am so glad the struggles of today’s moms and mental illness are coming to the forefront of mainstream media. On the other hand, I am concerned the media sometimes blurred the lines between abuse of medication and appropriate usage of medications to treat clinical illness.
I feel compelled to address 3 main issues in our blog.
1. As a provider of healthcare to women, I am acutely aware of the challenges of balancing children, work and relationships. Women typically come to us when they start feeling their lives swirling out of control. We have built relationships with them through their years of dating, marriage, childbirth, divorce, and loss of loved ones. We are often the first people women reach out to when they start having concerning symptoms. The truth is many women cope well with these challenges whereas others with clinical depression or anxiety may need to seek medical help. Sometimes the clinical management of anxiety and depression will include medication whereas other times it is therapy or lifestyle changes. It is the provider and patient who decide the appropriate medical management of a clinical diagnosis. I hope the goal of the media was to provide better understanding of how the challenges of motherhood can impact the delicate balance of someone already struggling from mental illness and awareness of symptoms indicating the need to seek medical attention. Unfortunately, the media has also sparked mothers judging other mothers. It saddens me to see reader responses to the programs criticizing mothers for seeking appropriate care for a medical diagnosis. My hope is women will not be influenced by negative criticism of other moms. I hope women continue to come to us to discuss concerns and work with a medical provider to determine the need for intervention.
2. Importantly, the media highlighted women who are self-medicating and using poor coping skills. I worry the most about these women. These are the women that may not realize they would benefit from meeting with a provider to discuss medical intervention. We all know someone who needs multiple glasses of wine each night to ‘relax’, a friend who over exercises and counts every last calorie she puts in her mouth, the woman who continues to take her leftover pain medicines on a regular basis, and those who binge eat to cope with the stresses of daily life. These unhealthy coping habits are signals to seek help. They might suggest an underlying mental health problem that could be well controlled with the right intervention.
3. Treatment of anxiety and depression often should include lifestyle changes – such as stress management and therapy. Unfortunately, many patients find it difficult to get insurance coverage for mental health services and even fear the stigma of seeing a psychiatrist. I hope by bringing the mental health discussion to the forefront, the media has reduced the stigma of seeing a mental health professional. I always recommend stress reduction as part of a plan to manage anxiety and depression. I talk with my patients about exercise, meditation, acupuncture, diet and leisure activities. I wish I had an answer to the question – why are so many mom’s on antidepressants? The Katie Couric survey had 1 in 4 moms taking medication.
I hope we are able to make changes in our lives to reduce the numbers of women suffering from depression and anxiety while not deterring those who need help from seeking appropriate treatment. There is an ebb and flow in a woman’s mental health across the lifespan. A woman with a tendency for anxiety and depression may be managed well with stress reduction and therapy for a long while, but a life event may trigger worsening of symptoms. Medication may be needed as a short-term addition to the treatment plan. Some women will need medication daily for life whereas others will need it only temporarily -a decision between the provider and her patient.
If you have any concerns, please schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider at 770 751 3600 or online at