By Dr. Anthony Policastro

One of the key things we look for is for physicians to treat a disease to make it better. For example, pneumonia causes fever. Things like Tylenol treat fever. They can lower a fever in a patient with pneumonia. However, they do nothing to treat the underlying pneumonia. Antibiotics are needed for that.

A broken arm causes pain. Pain can be treated with pain relievers. However, the broken arm may need to be casted and might need to have surgery. The need is to fix the underlying problem. Treating pain is an important part of the plan. However, it is secondary. 

Unfortunately, many patients do not always understand this. That is especially true with conditions like anxiety and depression.

These conditions are caused by complex psychological factors. They need to be addressed as a disorder.

That might mean counseling, or some kind of behavior therapy. For example, anxiety is often treated with something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

This form of therapy recognizes that there are three parts to anxiety producing situations. One of them is the trigger. The second is the actual anxiety symptoms. The third is the self calming that takes place to reduce the symptoms.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a process that looks at these three phases. It looks at the various triggers. It then seeks ways of avoiding those triggers. Alternatively, it might seek ways of modifying those triggers.

The second phase is to look at the anxiety symptoms. The aim is to try and produce a different set of symptoms to replace them. The goal is to avoid having those symptoms cause problems for the individual and those around the individual.

The third phase looks at the self calming techniques. The goal here is to try and enable the individual to tap into those techniques. It allows the calming down to occur more quickly.

All of this takes time. Our society often does not want to spend that time. In addition, finding counselors who can do this is not always easy. Add to that the fact that some insurers will not pay for these services. The result is that the therapy does not take place.

Instead the individual is given anti-anxiety medication. This does nothing but treat the symptoms. It does not cure anxiety. It does not address the underlying problem.

A similar thought process can be used for patients who are depressed. Instead of getting the underlying problem treated, they take anti-depressants.

About 10 percent of adults take anti-anxiety medication. An additional 13 percent take antidepressants. That means that about 1 out of 4 individuals are on medication for something that needs additional treatment.

The real issue is that people on these medications often think that they are treating the problem. That is not the case. They are like the pneumonia patient thinking that using Tylenol to lower the fever cures pneumonia. They are like the patient with the broken arm thinking that pain medication fixes the break.