Are We Overmedicating the Bereaved?

Posted on May 12, 2016 by RevLocal Content under Uncategorized
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Are We Overmedicating the Bereaved?

By Julie Olds, MMC Director of Community Relations and Education

The Schoedinger Family of Brands

Recently I was having lunch with a group of friends. The subject of medications came up, and I was quite surprised to learn how many of them were on some type of medication. Most were on meds to lower cholesterol, some to control diabetes, and many were on antidepressants/antianxiety medications.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am all about healthy eating, healthy lifestyle and no medications unless absolutely necessary. Yet it was clear in this lunchtime conversation that most people are okay with taking medications and even believe that there is a pill to help with nearly every problem.

As the conversation progressed, I found that several of my friends began taking antidepressants sometime after a loved one had died. The stresses of having to go back to work and “be normal” were overwhelming, so their doctors prescribed medication. This led me to do a little online research to examine this trend.

According to CBS News, researchers find that nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half receive at least two prescriptions. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical and research center, report that antibiotics, antidepressants and painkiller opioids are the most common prescriptions given to Americans.

Twenty percent of U.S. patients were also found to be on five or more prescription medications. The study is uncovering valuable information to the researchers about U.S. prescription practices.

“Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” Dr. Jennifer St. Sauver said in a Mayo Clinic press release. “However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants — that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on. And the third most common drugs were opioids, which is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature.”

Nearly one in four women age 50 to 64 were found to be on an antidepressant, with 13 percent of the overall population also on antidepressants. Seventeen percent of people in the study were being prescribed antibiotics, and 13 percent were on painkilling opioids. As a whole, women and older adults received the most prescription drugs. Antidepressants and opioids were most common among young and middle-aged adults.


I then went on to discover that there are many articles about medicating the bereaved and what are acceptable practices. In his classic text, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, grief expert J. William Worden notes, “There has been much discussion among mental health professionals about the use of medication in the management of acute, normal grief. The consensus is that medication ought to be used sparingly and focused on giving relief from anxiety or from insomnia as opposed to providing relief from depressive symptoms . . . It is usually inadvisable to give antidepressant medications to people undergoing an acute grief reaction. These anti-depressants take a long time to work, they rarely relieve normal grief symptoms, and they could pave the way for an abnormal grief response, though this has yet to be proved through controlled studies. The exception would be in cases of major depressive episodes.

There were even several articles relating to “Prozac Nation” defining distinct increases in the percentages of antidepressant medications being prescribed over the past several years. What I found most interesting were the number of articles discussing the complexity of diagnosing grief versus depression. In one article it stated that the majority of doctors prescribing antidepressants were general practitioners, not mental health professionals.

I am certainly no clinician, but I do care about people. I know that there are many resources out there to help those feeling the effects of grief. However, if you or someone you know feels that they may need a little extra help with their grief journey (if you are concerned about depression), I encourage you to seek the advice of a mental healthcare professional. They are certainly equipped with tools to more accurately diagnose your symptoms and offer remedies that may not involve medications.

To learn more about how Schoedinger helps those who are grieving, visit our website

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