Why women are medicating away their moodiness

Women, it's perfectly normal to be moody
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Women, it's perfectly normal to be moody 04:05

Story highlights

  • At least one in four U.S. women is taking a psychiatric drug, according to expert
  • Author says many women taking mental health meds don't really need them
  • Report: Nine of 10 big pharmaceutical firms spend more on marketing than research

(CNN)When I received an advance copy of a book called "Moody Bitches" last month, I was immediately intrigued.

I have been called moody, and the "b" word, but never have both terms been used -- at once -- to describe me. (At least not that I know of!)
Had I been labeled a moody "b" in the past, I certainly would have taken it as a major insult.
    Psychiatrist Julie Holland, author of "Moody Bitches," has practiced in New York for 20 years.
    But today, if someone called me that, I think I would say, "Thank you for describing who I am and who we, women, are. There is nothing wrong with being moody, emotional or irritable."
    That provocative title, "Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You're Taking, the Sleep You're Missing, the Sex You're Not Having and What's Really Making You Crazy," got me thinking about whether our emotionality, our monthly ups and downs during our menstrual cycle, should be viewed as such a negative after all.
    "Women have this idea that we are supposed to not be moody and we're supposed to tamp down that moodiness," said Julie Holland, author of "Moody Bitches" and a psychiatrist who has practiced in New York for 20 years.
    "It's like a problem to be fixed and really, I think it's our greatest asset. It's certainly our greatest psychological asset."
    After all, our empathetic nature helps us understand nonverbal babies -- and not-always-the-most-communicative husbands and partners. Our intuition helps us sense people's motivations. Our emotions help us realize when something is wrong in our lives.
    So, why on earth have all of those qualities come to be viewed as a source of weakness, not strength? And why is at least one in four American women taking some form of psychiatric medication, including antidepressants, versus one in seven men, according to Holland?
    Some of these women definitely should be taking antidepressants and other medications, but the question is why are so many other women taking them when they don't need to be?
    Those were just some of the many questions a group of us chatted about over coffee recently: Holland, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, Cosmopolitan executive editor Leslie Yazel and me.
    Kelly Wallace and Sunny Hostin of CNN along with author Julie Holland and Leslie Yazel of Cosmopolitan.
    Yazel, a mom of a 4-year-old, wondered if people are afraid of being unhappy.
    "I do think that people are afraid to be sad and they're afraid to be scared," Holland said.
    "I think we spend a lot of time and energy pushing down emotions that are uncomfortable for us. I don't want to cry right now. I don't want to be angry. I don't want to be scared so we push it down, but the problem with pushing it down is it takes a lot of energy and it ends up creating a lot of tension."
    Social media, with the endless barrage of gorgeous-looking pictures from family and friends who appear to be having the most perfect lives, certainly doesn't help. In fact, a recent study showed that heavy Facebook users experience envy, which could lead to extreme sadness and depression.
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    "Everyone's Instagraming their best, most fabulous, freakin' pictures, and they're looking so skinny and beautiful and so happy, and they're going on vacation ... and then you compare it to your life," said Hostin, a mom of two.
    It's not a real or genuine life, Holland said. "It's plastic."
    But when more and more women medicate away their emotions when they don't need to be taking antidepressants or any other psychiatric drugs, they create a "new normal," she said.
    "It's like doping and biking, or steroids and baseball. If everybody is doing it, then the ones who don't are at a disadvantage," said Holland, who is also the author of the best-selling memoir "Weekends at Bellevue."
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    "If everyone is getting boob jobs, then people who don't end up feeling flat-chested."
    And when it seems more normal than not to be on mental health meds, the bar is lowered for when women will go on antidepressants, she said.
    Women who are medicating away their emotions when they don't need to be might not realize there are major effects to their decision. Notably, they find it more difficult to cry -- and tougher to orgasm.
    "I certainly talk to my patients about sexual side effects. It comes up all the time. In our first meeting, I ask ... 'Is it hard for you to climax because this may end up being an issue? It's going to be even harder' ... but it's not like it's in the advertising," Holland said.
    "It may be in the small print on the back of the ad, or they may say it at lightning speed during the TV commercial."
    Women today are subjected to a barrage of advertising -- from daytime talk shows to women's magazines -- about the medications they could take to make them feel better.
    "Twenty years ago, when I started my practice, I had somebody come to me and they would have symptoms, but they didn't quite know what was wrong and what they needed. And now people come to me and it's like, 'Well can you explain the difference between Effexor and Wellbutrin, and can you tell me which one I should take?' "
    The conversation "advanced from 'Is there something wrong with me? Do I need medicine?' to 'Which medicine is right for me?' " said Holland, who points to how nine out of 10 of the big pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than on research and development.
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    What we're also seeing, Holland said, is a growing belief by women in the workplace that they need the meds to control their emotions at the office.
    She tells the story of a woman who called her up in tears and said she needed new antidepressants because clearly her current meds weren't preventing her from crying at work.
    When Holland asked her what caused her to cry, she said her boss was being difficult. Holland said what was needed was a plan to confront her boss, not a prescription for a new medication.
    "I hate to see us medicating away our sensitivity and emotionality for the comfort of other people in the workplace. I think it's a big mistake."
    Thinking about trying to control our emotionality for the comfort of others reminded me of a college relationship, which I shared with Hostin, Yazel and Holland.
    My boyfriend at the time told me one of my problems (he clearly thought I had many!) was that my highs were too high and my lows were too low.
    He said I needed to live in the middle. "You should be more like me, like a man," joked Holland.
    Clearly, that relationship didn't last very long!
    As we wrapped up, I asked the women what the biggest takeaway was for them following our conversation about Holland's thoughtful new book.
    "Don't give up your awesome orgasms," said Yazel. (Amen to that!)
    "So it's OK to be a moody 'b'?' " Hostin asked.
    "It's OK to be a moody 'b,' " Holland replied.
    "Our sensitivity and our emotionality is an asset. It's not a liability. It's not a symptom that needs to be medicated away."
    How concerned are you that so many women who don't necessarily need antidepressants are taking them? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.