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: .)

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.”

(stock photo)

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?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

23 thoughts on “Subdued”

  1. I agree with much of what you and Sallie have written but I disagree with the idea that antidepressants are notoriously ineffective. For people who have clinical depression, that is depression caused by brain chemistry instead of life circumstances, antidepressants can be life saving. They were for me. The medicine had the opposite effect of subduing me – having enough serotonin in my brain allowed me to be more outgoing, express my opinions more forcefully, and generally be more active in many ways. I, and others I know, felt numb BEFORE taking antidepressants, and the drugs made that feeling go away. Most older women, both those with clinical depression and those without, have a lot of reasons to feel angry, sad and hopeless because of the way we are treated in American society and because at our ages (I’m 74), we are experiencing a lot of loss as friends and family members pass away. Society needs to change, but in the meantime, individual women may benefit from antidepressants to help them cope with their situations.

    Cynthia, who lives full time in San Miguel de Allende

    1. Thank you SO much for this, Cynthia. Yes, without a doubt, antidepressants are life-saving for many people, and I’m glad you are one. My fear is that they’ve been — and are still being — over-prescribed and that they’re hard to break free from. Alas, the jury is still out on all of this.

  2. I will turn 79 next week and am stunned by your views. As an active volunteer, I come into weekly contact with 200 or more people representing many different races, age groups and sexual identities. It is a rare occurrence when I am not treated with respect and appreciation for the work that I do. Depression is often the result of hormonal differences that make women more susceptible to the disease than men. Men respond to depression differently and are less likely to seek medical attention. Since 2010, I have spent time each winter in San Miguel and have been treated no better or worse than I am treated here in the US. I have suffered from depression several times in my life beginning in college and have found effective ways of handling depression without the use of drugs. I find your views of aging women depressing!

    1. Thanks so much, June, for sharing your positive point of view and becoming part of what I hope will be a lively discussion. I know it’s a controversial topic and experiences will vary widely.

  3. Bonnie, I’m wondering if we might begin by respecting ourselves, valuing our lives, maintaining friendships with other senior women, and realizing white hair and wrinkles are beautiful! In place of pills, we can exercise. When treated unfairly we can use our voices,
    knowing the maltreatment is an example of ignorance
    we don’t need to accept.
    Love to you, Bonnie. Marge

  4. I have needed anti-depressants for the last 35 years in order to cope with life and not be suicidal. Now that I am retired and a widow, my stress level is much lower, and I may consider decreasing the dose.

    1. Thank you, Pat, for sharing your experience. From what I’ve been able to glean from my recent research, stopping or reducing antidepressant use can be problematic. So be sure to do it with your doctor’s guidance. Best wishes, Bonnie

  5. Indeed. It seems the whole country is on drugs of every kind. My mother was prescribed a dozen heavy pharmaceuticals for all kinds of things. One day she stopped taking all of them. Nothing happened.

    1. Seems that way, doesn’t it, querida? Your mom was fortunate to have not suffered terrible withdrawal. They say that Prozac (and its sister meds) should not be discontinued cold-turkey.

  6. A great discussion! When I was 50 (I’m 72 now) I became extremely tired with high blood pressure and pain in areas that made it seem that I had fibromyalgia. I took sick-leave for 8 months. After all sorts of tests &
    rest the doctor strongly recommended antidepressants, which I refused because I felt that I needed to find out what was really wrong with me and deal with it.
    This is where my healing journey began. I knew that I had to resign from the job that I had, which I did. I took early retirement, I went to a school of healing for 5 years, which included seeing a psychotherapist. I did so much. Eventually I discovered that my symptoms were from a MVA I had been in. So I got treatment for whiplash.
    If I had taken the antidepressants I would never have pursued this journey of healing, some of the best years of my life, which still continues for me.
    As an aside, I was travelling in Vietnam a few years ago with 2 sisters, one close to my age but her hair is dark, my hair is white. It was so noticeable how extremely well I got treated compared to them. It was such a treat for me!

    1. Yes, Carol, this is turning out to be a great discussion — and I’m very grateful. Thank YOU for sharing your journey. I’m sure WOW readers will find it very valuable. Best wishes on your continued journey.

  7. Definitely a complicated issue. Just from the comments here it is clearly a positive and a potential negative. And absolutely true the predicted backlash of white male dominance is in it’s full fury as women step into leadership roles along with people of color. True that big pharma wants to make more billions and true western trained allopathic doctors do not have the time or training to look for the source of a disease including depression. AND, it is also true that men still believe that they can just suck-it-up. Even though we no longer tell our sons that big boys don’t cry, that message is still very much in our culture. Men, in general, are also better at dissociating discomfort. So, men do not live as long as women because they don’t want to look weak by asking for help. I’m thrilled you’ve taken on a controversial issue and I’m looking forward to reading more comments. Thank you for shining light here.

  8. I submit to all that any elder, male or female dismissed by this present society is a cause for the many ails we all suffer from….from antidepressants to this vast community terribly illiterate, by choice? Ergo Big Pharm’ marketing/profiting from the unlearned and yes the red headed orangutan and his cronies another story , another time…

    AS to the percentages and I’m surely not knowing enough; I will posit, as a man at age 77 living full-time in SMA , that the difference could be just how simple minded men are .And their ability to finally eliminate many burdens and quite simply sate their hungers and call it a day???

    More, surely

  9. I guess I don’t fit the mold either. I’ve always been outspoken and will continue to be so until I die. BTW I’m 85. A year or so ago, a woman asked if she could “friend” me on Facebook. I said, sure. At this point she noticed that I didn’t believe in Global Warming/Climate Change and told me I was “on watch.” Then she asked me what I thought of a certain US president. The devil made me reply that I thought he had done a lot of good things. She UNFRIENDED me. OK with me. I think that women have been taught by society to be submissive. My mother was always shy and self-conscious. Then she lost her husband and moved into a nursing home. The staff there told her that she didn’t need the anti-depressants she’d been taking for years. She turned into a social butterfly at the nursing home and did all the activities and made a lot of new friends. She’d never had friends before, only her husband’s friends.

    1. I’m loving all these divergent responses, Pat! Thanks so much for yours. And thank you for your mom’s story. Glad she enjoyed fun and friends before the end.

  10. Gender inequality in the workplace was quite prevalent here in Australia, until over the last two decades, sexual discrimination laws made males more wary. Their thoughts didn’t change but at least efforts were made. We are also a very diverse nation of immigrants and with the wide range of cultures, I notice that women are treated very differently from one race to another. What I perceive as subservience, is actually acceptable and favoured in another culture. The way that the aged are treated, is also dramatically different compared to how we treat the elderly in our Western “white” society.
    So, I believe Bonnie, that the premise of your article should be about how Western white women are treated as they age. You even noted that Mexicans respect elders. Well, when I travelled through Europe, women were thought not to come into their prime before 40 and a 70 year old woman could still be a work of beauty. There is a lot that is systemically wrong with Britain and the United States. The latter superpower is showing its cracks, and strong leadership needs to return. And the big Pharma companies have too much control. But these are all different subjects in themselves.
    Women of my generation and older, (I am 62), believed in the medical profession. Not so the younger ones, who have grown up with internet and a challenging attitude towards establishment. I think your writing should stir up questions for women who have always accepted a doctor’s script.
    As to why women are medicated more so than men, well, I find women are more likely to visit a doctor. A man in the same emotional state, might keep his own counsel but with the help of alcohol.
    The subject requires much deeper analysis with more statistical information, in order to draw any conclusions, but you have started up a conversation and this is always a wondrous event. People don’t think too deeply about things until it happens to them, or someone like yourself, provides the seed of inspiration.

    1. Thanks SO much, Loula, for your every-thoughtful response. Yes, you’re so right — this is a huge subject that requires a lot more looking-into. But I’m happy to have shed a little light on it, and I’m thrilled by the conversation we’re all having. Abrazos, BB

  11. Dear Bon,
    I think you and Sallie Bingham are entirely correct. Look at the controls that are going on all over society. The elites are uninterested in hearing any kind of challenge, and women are one of their particular targets. The ERA Amendment has been in the news again. It’s been almost fifty years, and women still aren’t guaranteed equality. Why is this the case? In my opinion, it is because they fear your strength.
    No one can be complacent. Winning a right does not guarantee keeping it, and we can never forget that.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.