Prescribed medication for treating depression is a costly and largely ineffective way to treat mental illness symptoms, says a Kelowna psychologist.
Dr. Eric Kuelker says while as of two years ago 47 million prescriptions for anti-depressant medication were filled in Canada, he told a public forum audience Monday that only those with very severe depression are really benefiting from taking a pill treatment.
“The research is clear on this,” said Kuelker. “For moderate or mild cases of depression, anti-depressant pills don’t stack up any better than taking a placebo.
“I would not advocate stopping medication without first talking about it with your physician, as it does serve some purpose, but there is only one specific group of people diagnosed with depression that it really helps.”
Kuelker was speaking to an overflow crowd of more than 100 people at the Kelowna Downtown Library meeting room on Monday night, addressing three key areas of trauma that can cause depression and how psychotherapy rather than oral medication is best option for long-term successful treatment.
Kuelker’s focus on root causes for depression centred around childhood incidents related to emotional, physical or sexual abuse, parental neglect or domestic violence; enduring a stressful life event or injury as an adult; and suffering in a toxic workplace environment.
He said treating depression has been overshadowed by a general lack of respect for treating mental illness with the same priority that our medical system deals with physical ailments
“Psychological injuries are not the only cause for people to suffer from depression, but it is the single largest cause,” Kuelker said.
He said research studies have clearly shown a pattern of how depression is caused by past events that resonate inside of us. For those with nowhere or no one to whom to talk about emotional injuries, it builds up into a manic anxiety reflected in such ways as irrational emotional behaviour or substance abuse.
“With drug abuse, we refer to substance abusers as junkies. To us junk means garbage, so we are essentially labelling substance abusers as human garbage,” Kuelker said.
He called such labelling as “very sad” to see, because many substance abusers are suffering from issues of mental health anguish that are the root source for their drug addiction behaviour.
Kuelker said psychotherapy is a far better option to prescribed medicine, creating a patient-psychologist relationship that can effectively address mental health issues, saying a positive message of acceptance, consistency and recognition leads to positive results.
He spoke of success in the Alberta city of Lethbridge’s campaign to build more affordable housing for homeless people, saying the effectiveness of that program was about more than just providing shelter.
“There was one instance in Lethbridge where a homeless person was sleeping under a car. So every day for 75 days, he was approached and asked if he wanted a place to live under this housing for homeless initiative. He always refused but the message was the same to him, consistent and recognizing his wishes, and after 75 days he finally said, ‘Yes.'”
Kuelker said that story reflects the emotional suffering that puts a person in that position, and without working through those issues how mentally ill individuals can’t rescue their own lives.
“You are hiding from a pain, or if you grew up in a house of domestic abuse where substance abuse was all around you, you don’t know any difference. That is a normal life to you,” said Kuelker, adding it becomes a difficult cycle to break without support.
While you don’t need a doctor’s reference to see a psychologist, Kuelker said not all health care plans cover psychotherapy costs and prioritizing funding for such care gets lost in the competing interest demands for health care services budget funding.
He said for someone growing up in an environment of parental chaos and abuse, no GP can deal with breaking that cycle, or the mental illness symptoms that stem from those experiences, in a five-minute appointment.
“They don’t have the time to diagnose and intervene for mental illness issues in the same way they do with a physical injury,” Kuelker said, noting he was meeting with five physicians in Kelowna this week to discuss the issue of how psychotherapy can be a better utilized treatment option.
“The funding in place now for dealing with emotion injuries is inadequate. The need for funding is real but to see any change has to start at the grassroots level and putting pressure on the politicians to change that.”