The Couple Who Medicates Together
Could a pill be the key to marital bliss?
Not necessarily, according to Peter D. Kramer, Brown University professor of psychiatry and author of the 1993 best-seller Listening to Prozac. As much cultural lightning rod as academic doc, Kramer has drawn heat for holding what many regard as an overly rosy view of the benefits of antidepressants for the down-but-not-totally-out. (Google him, and you'll find the jabs about his being drugmakers' dream pitchman.) Still, Kramer and his critics agree about this: The toll depression takes on couples is real and dangerous. Studies show that if your partner is depressed, your chances of developing the condition increase. And depression, which afflicts 17.5 million Americans, doesn't just migrate from spouse to spouse. It spills down generations. But whereas skeptics say antidepressants' potential to relieve middling mood problems is largely an illusion, Kramer contends that, among those who are mildly depressed, familiar medications like Prozac can treat a variety of "personal glitches" that cause relationship friction.
Take the woman whose husband turns to check the football game when she's trying to tell him something. Not a precipitous moment for many couples. But if the woman is acutely sensitive to rejection, the gameward glance may not be just annoying but "send her into a mini depression or anxiety, where it takes her a couple days to recover," Kramer says. Simply recognizing that she's the reactive type might inspire a wife to, say, save the important conversations for occasions when her husband isn't distracted, or the couple could negotiate talk versus TV time in couples therapy. Or, says Kramer, whose mantra is “depression causes divorce as often as divorce causes depression,” the woman might suffer from diagnosable depression and get help from a pill. “When you take the medicine, there's a little floor under you,” he says.
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