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Mother's Little Helper

By: Dr. Jeremy Fink, LCSW Psy.D.  |  March, 1, 2018

The tranquilizers and psychological drugs that were overprescribed to middle class women of the post-war era were tools to help them cope with their feelings about living lives limited to taking care of home and family and the derogatory view society held about housewives. And, it's happening again.

The Rolling Stones 1966 song, "Mother's Little Helper" was about a drug called Meprobamate that was prescribed to middle class housewives of the 1940's-60's to combat feelings of depression and boredom. By 1956, doctors had written 36 million prescriptions for Meprobamate and at the height of its popularity, one out of every three prescriptions were for this drug. Unfortunately, the drug was physically addictive, caused withdrawal symptoms, and overdose was common. 

Drug overdose death is now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, surpassing peak annual deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents, guns, and HIV infection. The culprit is once again prescription medication, and this epidemic is running rampant among young, middle to upper class housewives, creating a rapidly growing group of drug abusers in America. 

The drugs most frequently abused include Xanax, Ritalin, and opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin.  There is an illusion of legitimacy about these drugs, after all they are prescribed as medicine, not for recreational use, approved by the FDA, recommended by a doctor, and purchased at a pharmacy. In most cases there was also a medical condition that initially legitimized the medication: postpartum depression, an injury or pain resulting from lugging around the children and the heavy baby bag, difficulty focussing and the multitasking required in a busy mom's life.  

The problem with most of these drugs is that they are psychologically and physically addictive. For example, a woman prescribed Xanax postpartum instructed to take one pill per day, may soon need three or four and eventually as many as ten as she builds up a tolerance to its effects. 

Depression hurts mentally and physically. In fact, depression is often misdiagnosed as a chronic pain condition. It is estimated by the American Psychological Association that 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression, and what is termed the "baby blues" is even more common and results in days of feeling sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, and worry. There are many reasons why women experience depression, but one common factor is that most experience a general lack of support in their transition to motherhood. The same pessimistic view held toward housewives and mothers during the post-war era is still relevant today and woven into our society; it's no wonder prescription drugs are being used to cope.

Treatment is available for someone struggling with drug addiction. Here in Malibu there are many local options. It is important for women and mothers to get the help that they need postpartum and beyond so that mental health problems such as depression and drug addiction can be avoided.

A little help for mother:

Psychotherapy can be a positive step toward feeling yourself again, get involved in a social group and avoiding the isolation sometimes associated with being a mom or a housewife, get some physical activity at the gym, go for a hike, or take a yoga class, schedule some time for yourself, go for a weekly massage.

The loneliness, isolation, and socially ascribed feelings of worthlessness and guilt experienced by mothers can sometimes make getting help too challenging. People who are depressed have a difficulty taking action, even if it is for their own betterment. Prescription medication such as antidepressants can sometimes help, but be an informed consumer. Despite an FDA approval or doctor's prescription, understand the risks associated with drugs such as benzodiazepines, stimulants, and pain medications before taking them.