Dr. Julie Holland argues that women are designed by nature to be dynamic and sensitive – women are moody and that is a good thing. Yet millions of women are medicating away their emotions because we are out of sync with our own bodies and we are told that moodiness is a problem to be fixed. One in four women takes a psychiatric drug. If you add sleeping pills to the mix the statistics become higher. Overprescribed medications can have far-reaching consequences for women in many areas of our lives: sex, relationships, sleep, eating, focus, balance, and aging. Dr. Holland's newest book is titled Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having and What’s Really Making You Crazy.
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Transcript: The main kind of antidepressant that is the most popularly prescribed are the SSRIs and these are medicines that increase serotonin transmission. And when you start to push on the doses of these SSRIs you start to lose some sort of quintessential feminine things. First of all it becomes much hard to climax and it becomes much, much harder to cry. But you also see decreases in empathy, in sensitivity, in passion.
The simple way of thinking about an SSRI is that you have two brain cells and one is a pitcher and one is a catcher. So pitch, catch. Pitch, catch. So this nerve cell is throwing serotonin across and this one is catching it. What the medicines do is they block the recycling back into the pitcher. So, you know, I’m throwing, I’m throwing, some of this gets caught, some of it gets dropped. It just doesn’t get over there but I’ll suck it back in and try again. So if you block the recycling more is in the middle to get across. So there’s more, you know, the space between the nerve cells is called the synapse. If you block the recycling of the serotonin into the releasing cell more is available for the catching cell. So it ends up enhancing the transmission. How enhanced serotonergic transmission translates into feeling better and feeling less anxious is much more complicated. But, you know, the simplistic way to think about it is that if you have higher levels of serotonin, if your transmission is better you will be more relaxed and more happy. It’s a little easier to smile. It’s a little harder to cry.
So, you know, I’ve had patients come to me and say, you know, I’ve tried antidepressants before but they always made me feel like a zombie or they didn’t make me feel like myself. Or I had a patient who said like I cut my finger and I looked down and I saw that it was bleeding and I saw that it was my blood but I didn’t really feel like connected to my finger or the blood. You know, things like that that are really, really worrisome. Or I’ve had patients say, you know, I was in this situation where I knew I should be crying and I couldn’t cry. And, you know, I felt terrible that I couldn’t express that emotion to bond with my friend or something like that.
So these antidepressants do scale back a lot of expression of emotion and feeling emotion even sort of thinking emotional thoughts. If you’re terribly depressed and you need antidepressants to get out of bed and function and go to work I get it. That’s one thing. But what I’m worried about is more and more women deciding to go on antidepressants because their friends are doing it and that’s what’s, you know, more and more women who are at work are taking these SSRIs so that they cannot cry, not get flustered, keep going forward. You know I think it jives with this sort of forward momentum agenda that so many of us have and especially in the workplace. But, you know, I would say at what cost? You know it is true that SSRIs can help you get ahead and there have been really interesting animal studies where, you know, the primates who are on SSRIs ascended up the dominance hierarchy. And the ones who became dominated over got stressed out and had lower serotonin levels. So there does seem to be some component of serotonin affecting dominance hierarchies and, you know, the ability to move ahead or to lean in.
So I totally get that there are advantages to being on an SSRI in the workplace. But, you’re going to miss out on knowing what’s right because you feel it or being hurt by what somebody said and showing them that you’re hurt. And so that person can learn that their behavior has emotional consequences for other people. So and it changes the whole sort of tone of the workplace. There’s going to be less accountability and less sort of calling people on their misbehavior if you’re not even feeling that anyone misbehaved. [TRANSCRIPT TRUNCATED]