My dear friend in Santa Fe, New Mexico, fellow writer/blogger Sallie Bingham, tackled a topic this week in her blogpost that has been consuming me lately: older women’s use of antidepressants. The question that distresses me is: Why are older women – mostly educated white women over sixty – the largest users of antidepressants in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control? (See the CDC data: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db377.htm .)
I have my own theories, many questions, but no real answers. Could it be due to a potent combo of ageism and sexism? Older American women, it seems to me (because I am one), are too often sidelined, devalued, and discarded like yesterday’s daily newspaper by the dominant youth-and-beauty-obsessed American culture. This is unfortunate and indeed depressing.
(This is also, I believe, why you’ll find so many single, older, white American women living here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Mexicans respect elders, including us. We are uniformly treated with dignity and respect. For this reason, among others, most of us have no intention of ever returning to the U.S. to live.)
But let’s just imagine for a moment a perhaps typical American scenario: A single woman in her early sixties, children grown and off in the world, ex-husband remarried, herself feeling lost, negated, and, yes, depressed, goes to a doctor who has no time to spare, who quickly takes out a handy pad and gives her a prescription for what he lightly calls “happy pills.”
She’s always been a “good girl,” respectful of authority figures, such as this knowledgeable doctor; she takes the prescription and fills it unquestioningly. She’s soon hooked. She is quieted, subdued. She no longer cries so much. She doesn’t care as much about anything. She feels numb.
I’ll go out on a limb here with one of my theories: I believe that The Powers That Be in the U.S. – that is to say, the great white titans in power who pull the big strings behind the scenes – are threatened by educated older women and want to do whatever they can (including pharmacologically) to prevent us from becoming the strong, wise, outspoken, truth-telling elders we were meant to be — women who have meaningful things to contribute to our world before we leave it.
We mustn’t allow this to continue. To achieve our final potential, I strongly believe, we must be clear-headed — alert, aware, informed, and concerned about the world around us – not drugged.
This, I know, is a major, many-faceted, extremely complicated and controversial topic, which calls for much more research on my part, wider discussion, and perhaps more blogposts. Please, WOW Readers, consider contributing to the discussion by sharing your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below. And here is Sallie’s thought-provoking post, which prompted this one, in which she shares her point of view:
Why Are We Being Dosed?
Sallie Bingham – April 26, 2023
A dear friend recently sent me a surprising announcement from the Centers for Disease Control: 24% of women over sixty are being prescribed, and presumably are taking, anti-depressants, compared to 13% of men in the same age group. Why am I not surprised?
We women in that age group are aware on a daily basis of our near-invisibility. A culture obsessed with youth and “good looks,” lacking the respect many traditional cultures accord their wisdom carriers, impacts us every day. We are ignored in both casual and formal situations, largely by men but also by some women of all ages.
Our problems with expressing anger mean that we are unfailingly polite, ignoring or trying to ignore rudeness, explaining it away as “not really mattering” or “just the way things are.” For me, it is something of a relief since the attention I used to receive was, to say the least, problematical. And yet, this statistic reminds me that I, too, feel the neglect and the disrespect, reminding me of the way women were treated years ago (and we thought that had changed!), and of the sudden interest some men took in me when they realized I have money.
Dealing with this alone is, I think, nearly impossible. But until women begin to be aware of this statistic, we can’t really help each other. It does appear to me, here in Santa Fe, that women are traveling together more than we used to, and this may be true elsewhere; but as with all the other problems we face or have faced, it takes open acknowledgment to bring about any change.
Another background fact: anti-depressants are notoriously ineffective and even harmful, another hidden piece of information which the drug companies are sure to keep hidden.
Dosed older women mean quiet older women. It means subservient older women, which is certainly what our world demands. We are the ones who know, from decades of experience, how belittled we are, even in this later day of the feminist revolution which brought about extraordinary changes but is now rapidly retreating into obscurity.
In this dry climate, I often rub moisturizer on my wrinkles, even though it has no long-term effect. I sometimes put on make-up, which has little effect as well and costs a lot of money. And every time some well-meaning man (?) tries to help me up, or asks, condescendingly, if I’m “all right,” I want to spit, but of course I don’t.
I find that gay men are a little more resistant to these repellant habits than straight men, possibly because they have felt the lash of discrimination. And men from native cultures here, which are matriarchal—property descends through the mothers—are notably respectful to their wisdom carriers. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a beautiful young woman in most representations, but if she were shown as old, I expect she would still be worshiped.
But not by people from the dominant white culture where women, mothers, are still too often blamed, if in silence, for their sons’ problems.
There are spurts of resistance, as in the slogan, “When I’m old, I will wear purple.” But when did a color ever get us anywhere?
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- For more on Sallie, her work, and her blog, visit her website:salliebingham.com.
- To see my 2014 WOW interview with Sallie, please go to: bonnieleeblack.com/blog/sallie-bingham-a-philosophy-of-philanthropy/