Are meds always the answer for stressed-out moms?

I can relate to Katherine Snow Smith, the mom in Florida who wrote in the St. Petersburg Times about how she lost it with her kids one time too many. But what I can’t relate to is Smith’s decision that she needs to take a potent psychoactive drug to calm herself down.

Smith talks about how a friend of hers had gone on a “girls’ weekend” with eight mothers she casually knew:

“She later told me six of them were on some kind of meds. They compared the benefits and side effects Paxil, Lexapro, Cymbalta, Prozac and others. Some made you gain weight, some made you lose. Some decreased sex drive. All of them, it seemed, made them feel like they were better moms, wives and daughters.”

This may indeed be true. After all, a relative of mine went on Paxil for much the same reason: because she was yelling too much at her kids and her husband and she found that she is calmer and less anxious on 10 milligrams of the SSRI antidepressant. I’m sure there are times when my husband and sons wish I were on Paxil too, especially in the evening after a long day when they’ve pushed my buttons once too often.

But are drugs the answer? As Philip Dawdy puts it (a hat tip to him for alerting me to Smith’s column) in Furious Seasons:

What the hell is going on with this country and its people that we’re getting all doped-up on SSRIs and the like over the stresses of daily life and parenting and think that’s making us better? Where has this kind of thing gone on before?

Oh, wait. It was in America in the 50s, 60s and 70s when stressed out, agitated, anxiety-riddled Americans were taking Miltown, Valium and all those other benzos and downers and whatnot. We know how that turned out: Miltown pulled from the market and Valium junkies all over the place.

Is the same thing happening all over again with the new generation of antidepressants? We all know that the SSRIs, especially Paxil, cause serious withdrawal problems and have a host of other unpleasant side effects, including weight gain, decline in sex drive, changes in cognitive alertness, and in some people, an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Does the benefit really outweigh the risks?

As one occasionally stressed-out mom, I would hope that Smith and all these other overburdened mothers consider other alternatives first. Like yoga, meditation, exercise, or dare I say it, a husband who travels a little less and is home more often? Personally, I find aerobics and the occasional dinner out with friends a welcome salve.

At the end of her column, Smith rationalizes her decision to take drugs by saying, “I want to enjoy every minute of it as much as I can.” Given what we know about how these drugs can numb the mind, let me add this postscript: be careful what you wish for.

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