battling depression

Depression is one of those non-fun things that I’d rather not know as much about as I do. I’m fortunate in that my battles with depression are episodic and relatively mild. As a kid, I was diagnosed as having dysthymia (chronic depressive symptoms). I was later diagnosed with major depression, and then diagnosed yet again as a juvenile (following a suicide attempt, no less).

In my adult years, it seemed that depression was a thing of the past. That is, until it became a thing of the present. No thoughts of suicide, but plenty of anxiety and hopelessness. I did some research–not that much, but some–and discovered that I would need to get approval from my insurance company in advance of going to a psychiatrist in order to assure coverage. Even so, the diagnosis itself would likely cost north of $1,000. In the throes of depression, the nearest appointment was a few weeks away. I would have to wait patiently. I dutifully transferred additional money from the investment portion of my HSA to the cash portion well in advance.

The symptoms subsided and I canceled the appointment. After all, I’m busy, and I really don’t have time to get a diagnosis, be told what I already know, and then hope that the doc prescribes antidepressants that work. And they do work pretty well for most people. But how much would they cost, even with insurance? Would I need to go to the psychiatrist once a month, once a week, or what? Again, busy schedule.

In the end, I decided on an herbal supplement called St John’s Wort. After taking it for a few weeks, and figuring out the proper dosage, I can say it works reasonably well. It seems to have an effect similar to modern antidepressants (of the SSRI variety, i.e., the kind that increase the accumulation of serotonin neurotransmitters at nerve endings), with similar side effects as well.

Good move? For my situation, I’m thinking yes. It’s certainly cheaper than the sticker price of Paxil (before factoring in insurance). It’s also worth noting that applications for health and life insurance have questions like, “have you ever been diagnosed with depression?” Being able to answer “no” to those questions (I’ve never been diagnosed with depression as an adult) is convenient.

Let me add that I’m not recommending self-medicating or avoidance of seeking help if you really need it. My point is that St John’s Wort really does work for some people, myself included, and there’s a downside to getting an official diagnosis (insurance rates might be impacted). If I had to choose between doing nothing and taking an OTC herbal “medication” that’s been studied by government agencies and universities in various countries (and shown to be both safe and effective for moderate depression), I would choose the latter. It seems to reduce anxiety and make me more stress-resilient as well (makes sense, since stressors often trigger depression). And all without having to waste time in a doctor’s office on talk therapy.

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