Shawn Bean, executive editor of “Parenting” magazine opens up about what happened when he posted on his Facebook page, “I’m working on a story about parents who take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication,” and shares the response to his controversial article.
“I suffer from chronic depression. I have days when I’ve wanted to plow my car into a brick wall, or step off a pier into deep waters below. Happiness is something I gave up on long ago. So I decided to simply embrace this life war, and never ever let it get the best of me.”
This is just one of the online comments from “Xanax Makes Me a Better Mom,” the feature story I wrote for the March issue of Parenting. It took 72 hours for the story to accumulate approximately 1,000 comments. I was a little stunned. I thought to myself, “Who reads a story, sees that there are 1,000 comments, and says, ‘I’m going to be the 1,001st person to say something.’” But it underscores what I learned while researching and writing the piece: Depression and anxiety touch more lives that we can imagine.
“Antidepressants are literally life ruiners when used inappropriately, which seems to be the overwhelming majority of the time.”
This in-depth feature began like most of the in-depth features we do – by looking at the world through the lens of parenthood. We knew the numbers: One in 10 Americans are depressed; 40 million suffer from anxiety disorders; prescription medication use is skyrocketing. But where do parents fit into these statistics? After a little digging, I learned that parents — specifically moms of multiples, pregnant women, new moms, stay-at-home moms, parents of special needs children, and fathers — suffer from depression and anxiety at a higher rate than the general population, sometimes twice as high. There are 16 million children living with a depressed parent.
So I had the data. Now I needed parents to help tell the story.
“Depression is a real disease and I hope one day we can learn to judge less if someone suffers from something we might not be able to physically see.”
I posted this message on Facebook: “I’m working on a story about parents who take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. If you’re willing to speak on the topic, I’d appreciate the opportunity to interview you.” In the first hour, I received half a dozen private replies. “I’m on Wellbutrin and Celexa,” wrote one mom. “I have two awesome sons and have been taking Celexa since 2009,” a dad told me. What I discovered was a litany of parents who deal with depression and anxiety, but live in the shadows. Many of them suffer quietly, not even telling their own family they take medication for mental health issues. JD Bailey, whose Honest Mom blog offers an authentic snapshot of life with depression, didn’t want Parenting to publish her real name. Her reason: She was worried that someone in her town or neighborhood might read the story and decide that it wasn’t safe for their children to come over for a playdate. As I sift through the comments, it’s easy to see why JD feels that way.
“People want a ‘prescribed’ drug so they can have normal feelings. You never want to feel sad? Depressed? Irritated? Angry? Well then stop breathing. That will cure all of those symptoms.”
The world of parents, depression, anxiety and prescription medication is a complicated ecosystem. It’s filled with OB-GYNs who can write scripts for Prozac, insurance companies that don’t cover talk therapy, anxious dads who go their entire lives without being diagnosed or getting help, moms blind-sided by postpartum depression, and ignorant onlookers who believe a glass of red wine is all the stress reliever you need.
“The fix doesn’t come from the therapist–the fix comes from you. The therapist is just helping you figure out how to unlock it.”
Today, JD Bailey is appearing on Katie. Having lived in the shadows long enough, she’s speaking out about her depression. Today, America will see what depression looks like. It looks like a mom of two daughters who lives in the suburbs. It looks like a neighbor who helps with the local bake sale. It looks like a professional who’s constantly juggling work and family.
It looks like all of us.