Xanax Makes Me a Better Mom
A record number of moms and dads are taking anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants, but some experts believe we're just dealing with the everyday roller coaster of parenthood with a small blue pill. What's the answer?
Bailey lives in a suburb of Boston, where children ride bikes in front of split-level colonial homes and locals make brownies for the neighborhood bake sale. It's the kind of charmed hamlet that teaches an important lesson: Depression and anxiety live everywhere. One in every ten Americans reports being depressed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S.
But parents are arguably the most vulnerable to these issues. From pregnant women to fathers to mothers of multiples to stay-at-home moms, they experience depression at rates twice that of the general population.
“Parenting is a tough job, one that is exhausting on a good day,” says Jenn Berman, a licensed psychotherapist in Beverly Hills and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids. “If you're also prone to depression, it can push you over the edge.”
Yet to the naked eye, the line that separates these mental issues from everyday parenthood is as thin as the chalky blue strip on a pregnancy test. From our children's health to their development to their performance at school, there's always something for moms and dads to be happy—or anxious—about. The common definition of depression states that a multitude of the following symptoms be present for a two-week period: fatigue and decreased energy, feelings of pessimism, overeating or appetite loss, insomnia or early-morning wakefulness, loss of interest in hobbies and activities once found pleasurable, and irritability and restlessness. That describes half the parents I know.
Our awareness of depressive and anxiety issues is at an all-time high (thank you, TV commercials), and our family physicians and ob-gyns can write scripts as easily as psychiatrists. It all adds up to our becoming Generation Medication: More than one in five American adults now take at least one type of medication to treat a psychological or behavioral disorder, a 22 percent rise since 2001. For women ages 20 to 44, the use of ADHD medication is up a staggering 264 percent over the past decade.
But very little talk surrounding depression and anxiety focuses on parents, which is hard to believe, since their mental well-being has a significant effect on our most precious cargo. “Depression…can have serious biological, psychological, behavioral, and social consequences, especially on children who rely on a parent for caregiving, support, and nurturance,” according to Depression in Parents, Parenting and Children, published in 2009 by the National Research Council. It's associated with poorer physical health, especially in infants, difficult temperament and aggression, lower cognitive performance, and higher rates of anxiety and depression. Sixteen million children are living in households with a depressed parent, so there are an enormous number of young lives at stake.
What does it mean that more kids are being raised with the help of Xanax, Cymbalta, and Wellbutrin? And is there an answer beyond the chemicals that live in a small, oval, baby-blue pill?