Anxiety and depression are very common today and depression affects 40% of the entire population every year with 20% of us developing clinical depression – low mood with sleep difficulties, changes in appetite, hopelessness, pessimism and sometimes thoughts of suicide. Last year alone 36 million prescriptions for antidepressants were handed out.
Anxiety is now such a universal problem that it is costing the UK more than £5 billion per year causing much suffering to the affected individual.
Conventional treatment offered for these conditions are mostly psychotherapy and drug treatment.
Drug treatment for anxiety consists mainly of beta-blockers and sedatives:
- Beta-blockers reduce autonomic symptoms like palpitations and tremor and reduce the heart rate but do not affect psychological symptoms such as worry, tension and fear or non-autonomic function such as muscle tension.
- Sedatives (mostly benzodiazepines, eg diazepam, better known as valium) are licensed for short-term relief of severe anxiety, but do cause dependence with severe withdrawal symptoms. Side effects may include drowsiness, confusion, ataxia, increase in aggression, depression, impaired motor function and learning, suppressed REM (rapid eye movement – the important dream phase) sleep, amnesia, dizziness and nausea.
Conventional drugs for depression divide into three groups: Monoamine-oxidase inhibitors, trycyclic and related drugs and the more modern selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. All of them can have many side effects, some very severe.