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1 in 5 Americans Takes A Psychiatric Drug

Lissa Rankin's picture

depression epidemic

A recent study reported that 1 in 5 American adults takes at least one psychiatric drug to treat depression and/or anxiety, a 22% increase since 2001. Do you get what this means? This means that in an office of 100 people, 20 of them – enough to form an entire department – will be on medication.

In the average family of 2 parents and 2 1/2 kids, one of them will eventually take psychiatric drugs. At your next high school reunion of 1000 graduates, 200 of them will be on mind-altering drugs.

Isn’t that shocking?

And yet, this doesn’t surprise me one bit.

Back when I was seeing 40 patients a day in my busy managed care medical practice, I was inundated with patients whose “chief complaints” (as we call it in medical lingo) were often not depression or anxiety, but other vague symptoms like this.

The Chief Complaint
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased libido
  • Moodiness
  • Vague physical symptoms like muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea, back pain, abdominal pain

When I questioned them, these patients reported that they felt listless, joyless, and low in energy. In other words, they had lost their mojo. (I call it the “mojo-sapping epidemic” in my next book Mind Over Medicine.)

It’s Not Just Neurotransmitters

Once upon a time, doctors recognized depression and anxiety as reactions to emotional events and life influences. When you lost your mother or got fired from your job or got diagnosed with cancer, it was considered normal to feel sad or anxious for a while. The root cause of your diagnosis was clear to everyone and the prescription was usually just time, not drugs. After all, time heals all wounds.

Then, in the wake of the increasing tendency to blame every disease on biochemical or genetic factors, these psychological states became attributed to neurotransmitters. Not enough serotonin. Too little GABA. The rush to “fix” these neurotransmitter imbalances with medication ensued.

But somewhere in the chemicalization of depression and anxiety, we forgot that, most of the time, these conditions arise because someone’s life is out of balance. It’s not just purely biochemical. 

The Root Cause of Anxiety And Depression

When I dig deep with a patient who is taking psychiatric medications to diagnose the REAL reason the patient is depressed or anxious, I often find issues like this.

The female patient:
  • Is bored and feels like she’s selling out her integrity at work
  • Harbors great resentment against the father who molested her as a child
  • Feels emotionally distant from her husband
  • Has lost touch spiritually and experiences dark nights of the soul
  • Doesn’t feel in touch with the erotic creature within her
  • Feels creatively thwarted and isn’t birthing the projects her heart longs to create
  • Feels trapped in her current living situation
  • Can’t stand her mother-in-law
  • Just lost her house and declared bankruptcy
The male patient:
  • Is fed up with being henpecked by his wife
  • Feels emasculated and dominated by his wife’s mother, who is disabled and living with his family
  • Feels powerless at work, where he’s been passed up for three promotions but is too scared to quit because he has three kids to put through college
  • Hasn’t gotten laid in three months and is so sexually frustrated he’s fantasizing about cheating
  • Goes to a church that makes him feel empty
  • Long ago gave up his dream of playing the guitar on stage

No wonder she’s depressed! No wonder he feels lost! You can medicate this woman or this man all you want, but unless you’re helping her/him heal what underlies the depression or anxiety, you’re just putting a sad Band-aid on her/his soul, and the results will be limited.

Making The Diagnosis

I help my patients diagnose the REAL reason they’re depressed and anxious, I introduce them to a radical new wellness paradigm called the Whole Health Cairn, which helps patients evaluate their whole health in a paradigm-shifting way. Scientific evidence proves that to be truly healthy both mentally and physically, it’s not enough to eat right, exercise, sleep 8 hours a night, see your doctor for regular check-ups, and take your medicine.

To learn the most important part of living a wholly healthy life, watch my TEDx talk here:

Writing The Prescription

Once patients diagnose the root cause underlying depression or anxiety, the next step is creating a step-by-step action plan aimed at healing what is out of balance.

The #1 question I ask patients is:  What do you need in order to heal?

The answers they give often shock both of us.
  • I need to leave my husband/wife
  • I need to move to Santa Fe.
  • I need to finish my novel.
  • I need to hire a nanny.
  • I need to eat a vegan diet.
  • I need to switch careers.
  • I need to quit drinking.

Once the patient makes the diagnosis and writes The Prescription, the challenge lies in implementing the changes necessary to heal from the core. When the patient can achieve this, magic happens. Radical healing and inexplicable cure are possible. Tectonic plates of a person’s life shift. Joy and peace return. Hearts open. Money flows in. Relationships get mended or released.

And neurotransmitters balance themselves, without drugs.

Do Anti-Depressants Even Work?

At least 75% and in some studies, up to 100%, of the effect of anti-depressants has been proven to be attributable to the placebo effect - which I believe is good news. This means that the potent cocktail of hope, positive belief, the support of a medical practitioner who cares, and the physiological self-healing mechanisms that get triggered by the body when it wants to heal, are ever-powerful. Some studies even show that placebos effectively reduce depression and anxiety when the patient knows it’s a sugar pill.

So why do we need the pill? Sure, every doctor will report some case studies where it’s truly a biochemical process, and once the biochemical disorder is reversed pharmaceutically, everything else falls into place. But I’d argue that most of the time, this isn’t the case.

Heal Yourself

So why not harness the potent self-healing power you have within you, tap into your Inner Pilot Light, do everything you can to be healthy and authentic in all aspects of your lives, and then - once you’ve balanced the Whole Health Cairn (which I describe in detail in my TEDx talk above), check back in. If depression and anxiety are still overriding, sure - go ahead and try medication. But don’t stop working on healing from the core. When you do ultimately heal the root causes, you’ll likely be able to stop your medication.


Make sure your body is optimized first. How’s your diet? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you exercising? How's your thyroid function?

Once people are doing all those things (which describes 90% of my health-conscious Marin County clients), it's time to go deeper into the Whole Health Cairn and the healing wisdom of your intuition.

You know your body and your mind better than any doctor can. So you really do have the power to heal yourself.

1. Believe that healing is possible. As long as you hold limiting beliefs like "I'm always going to need drugs and I'm never going to get better," this will be true. Try reciting positive affirmations ("I am joyful and free.") Or try EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), shamanic work, or guided imagery as modalities that will help you shift belief. 

2. Ask yourself "What do I need in order to heal?"

3. Get quiet. Meditate. Listen to the answer without judgment. Don't make whatever comes up wrong. Diagnosing what lies at the core doesn't mean you have to change it right this minute.

4. Ask your mental or physical illness to write you a letter. (Dear Christine, Here's what I want you to know (blah-de-blah). Love, Your Depression.) Feel free to write back to your depression. (Dear Depression, I'm so sick of you. Love, Christine.) Do this as a daily practice. See what comes up. 

5. Be open to receiving guidance from the Universe, God, a Higher Power, or whatever you want to call Source. Look for signs in books, "coincidences," the words of other people, healing dreams, etc.

6. Diagnose what's out of balance in your Whole Health Cairn.  Sign up for a free video training about self-healing and the Whole Health Cairn at ThePrescriptionForHealth.com.

7. Write The Prescription for yourself. Be as detailed as possible. Include actionable steps that will help you heal the root cause of your depression.

8. Let go. Even if you do everything right, sometimes it's in the cards that someone will stay afflicted. So do what you can, and if nothing helps, it's okay to stay on medication. It doesn't mean you've failed. Some things really are purely biochemical, and it's no reflection on how "good" you are.

What Do You Think?

Have you suffered from depression or anxiety. Do you take medication? Has it helped you? What lies at the root cause of your issues? Heal yourself by telling your story in this safe community here.

With faith in your ability to heal yourself,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.



Anonymous's picture

Antidepressants: a hate love relationship

I've been on antidepressants on and off since I was 20. I am now 40. In 2002 I injured my brain, neck, and spirit. I take antiseizure meds for issues related to this. I detest taking medication, everytime I take it I am reminded of the potential life I lost. In addition to that, I can not have a child. Everyday I fight to maintain forward momentum. My husband and I did not try to have children when I was younger becuase of the depression and now it is too late. The antiseizure meds have provoked unremitting severe depression. So now I take medications to deal with medication side-effects. I am bitter... Several young women that I know have been placed on various cliched cocktails (ssri, mood stabilizer, nari) and I'm flabbergasted! I want to yell at their doctors...this directly impacts their fertility and life choices. I am not one to recommend pulling oneself up by your bootstraps or ignoring your problems until they go away. So, what has happened that these young women need so much medication? I think healthcare coverage is part of the problem since often medications are covered when psychologists are not. Also, society expects you to keep moving no matter how much you hurt. But as for me, what do I do now? I really can't see that I've gained much from being ill? I've lost 10plus years to something that seems to be getting worse instead of better. What is your veiw of medication for circumstances that can not be changed or for circumstances where it takes all your energy to keep moving and what you really want is just enough space to be able to think about something else?

Lissa Rankin's picture

Welcome Bethany

I can't wait to read your blog on Owning Pink!

Thank you all for sharing you stories.
Much love

Bethany Butzer's picture

There Are Alternatives To Antidepressants

Lissa - I have been posting to you quite a bit today but I just can't help but comment on this blog! I LOVE your words. Everything that you've written is bang on. I took antidepressants for 6 years, and after years of trial and error, I finally managed to get off the medication for good by using many of the methods that you describe above. My book, "The Antidepressant Antidote: Five Steps To Get Off Antidepressants Safely And Effectively" chronicles my experience (http://www.bethanybutzer.com/antidepressantantidote.htm).

I'm actually going to be guest blogging for you soon - the title of my blog is "Mental Health: Serotonin Is Only Part Of The Story." So, as you can see, we have a lot in common!

Thank-you for sharing your wonderful work in this world.

Catherine's picture

major depression and medication

The first time I remember wanting to die (NOT kill myself) I was 9 years old. That was 50 years ago, and I currently take not one but four antidepressants / antipsychotics. I don't have the "blues", I have major depressive disorder. I have had years of therapy. I exercise, eat well, have a loving husband, close friends, a career that I love and that I am good at.

Until my primary physician referred me to a psychiatrist 10 years ago I also had frequent periods of helpless and hopeless feelings, obsessively guilty thoughts, the inability to get out of bed, uncontrollable sobbing and, yes, the longing for death because living was just too damn difficult.

My family can trace at least 5 generations of members with these symptoms. My brother killed himself when he was 34.

I do not disagree that "depression" is vastly over-diagnosed in our society, and that lifestyle is extremely important to manage the blues. I also acknowledge that stories such as mine are not the usual. I must assert, however, that true depression can be a life threatening disease. When all other avenues have been explored (therapy, exercise, lifestyle changes) sometimes drugs can be a blessing.

Kat's picture

Anti-depressants never did me any good

I've had depression and anxiety from around the age of 9. I was then in an abusive marriage for around 15 years and I came out of that with the added joy of PTSD.

I always refused medication because I felt like I needed to be in control and that I would not be if I took the meds the doctors wanted to give me. Around 4 years ago, when I was really struggling with my symptoms and needed some respite, I gave in and took the cocktail that the doctor prescribed me. It was a horrible experience and not one that I would ever care to repeat.

I got myself some additional counselling and came off the meds. Dealing with the root cause of the symptoms is something I work on everyday, I also use my diet and yoga to help with it. It is a long journey but things have gotten better without the aid of drugs. My flashbacks are reduced to maybe one a year without avoiding the triggers whereas they were debilitating previously.

The most helpful things on my path to healing have been one-to-one counselling, speaking to others that have been through the same issues, diet and excercise.

When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.