A LEADING psychologist has warned against the "over-medicalisation" of normal stress, as it can stop people tackling their problems.
Head of psychology at the Mater Hospital Dr Michael Drumm said if patients were merely suffering the strains of everyday living, they would be better off experiencing it and making lifestyle changes rather than taking prescription drugs.
This might help people to work out why they were feeling depressed and looking at it as an opportunity to change, and for personal growth, said the former president of the Psychological Society of Ireland.
He was speaking in reference to a new British study that claimed doctors are needlessly prescribing anti-depressants to patients who are merely 'sad' rather than clinically depressed.
The bereaved, people suffering with sexual problems and insomniacs are among those who are being handed anti-depressants, it has been claimed.
The study found "over-diagnosis of depression is more common than under-diagnosis".
In a new report, Chris Dowrick, professor of primary medical care at Liverpool University, called for guidelines on diagnosing depression to be tightened and for pharmaceutical companies to be banned from marketing drugs to GPs.
Writing in the 'British Medical Journal', Dr Dowrick claimed anti-depressants will not work for people with mild depression or who are sad.
Dr Dowrick said in recent decades there had been an increasing tendency, especially in primary care, to diagnose depression in patients presenting with sadness or distress.
The problems began in the 1980s, when the qualifying symptoms required for the clinical diagnosis of depression were lowered to include feeling sad or 'down in the dumps' for two weeks, appetite change, sleep disturbance, drop in libido or tiredness.
These symptoms are so common that most people would have them at some point in their lives, Dr Dowrick said.
His concerns were echoed by Dr Drumm, who said the over-medicalisation of human distress was, in his clinical opinion, "inappropriate".
Dr Drumm warned that despite its many promises, "the biological approach to mental health had achieved only a very limited amount of success.
"There is no evidence to support the idea that depression is solely caused by a neurochemical imbalance."
Dr Drumm said the diagnosis of depression was not the problem but the prescribing of anti-depressants, which could do some harm to the patient, with possible side-effects or even the addiction to the drug.
He added that antidepressants tended not to work for mild to moderate depression.