Irritable and Exhausted? That's Just Motherhood. Or Do You Need Meds?


Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the phrase “mother’s little helper” was used for psychopharmacological drugs — barbiturates, usually; tranquilizers and sedatives prescribed to unhappy women. Today, the drugs have changed, but the issues remain the same, and one in every 10 Americans reports being depressed. And when you’re a parent, your condition doesn’t just affect you, it has an impact on the entire family. But does that mean you need meds?

As Shawn Bean writes for

The common definition of depression states that a multitude of the following symptoms be present for a two-week period: fatigue and decreased energy, feelings of pessimism, overeating or appetite loss, insomnia or early-morning wakefulness, loss of interest in hobbies and activities once found pleasurable, and irritability and restlessness. That describes half the parents I know.

He’s exaggerating a little maybe, but maybe not. Bean also points out that “very little talk surrounding depression and anxiety focuses on parents, which is hard to believe, since their mental well-being has a significant effect on our most precious cargo.” Apparently at least sixteen million children are living in households with a depressed parent.

Obviously, some people are prone to depression and/or anxiety, and the rigors of parenting can, as one psychotherapist puts it in the story, “push you over the edge.”

The question is, how do you tell the difference between having a rough time parenting and a condition that requires medicating? Especially if you’re a first-time parent? If half the parents Bean knows are experiencing irritability and insomnia, does that mean half of them need Xanax? (And let’s not say you know when you know. We all know people who desperately need therapy and don’t even realize it.)

Allan Horwitz, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, tells Bean that Americans are just relying on meds to deal with the normal ups and downs of parenting:

“Let’s say you have a colicky baby,” says Horwitz. “Colic means your baby is not sleeping, which means you’re not sleeping. Now you have resulting symptoms from that-fatigue, irritability, feeling overwhelmed…. We’ve become less tolerant of negative emotions. It’s much easier to take a pill.”

He’s written a book called The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sadness Into Depressive Disorder. He seems to think that the drama of parenting isn’t something to medicate away. But what if your “negative emotions” are actually post-partum depression? Horwitz insinuates that it was better in the old days, when folks would just feel like crap but get through somehow. But are we overmedicating now, or were moms back then just depressed and undiagnosed?

Xanax ‘helps me be a better mom’ [Parenting]

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