Two recent articles have raised questions over the safety of long-term antidepressant use.
First, the New York Post reports on a lady who claims that antidepressants both saved her life, and destroyed it.
By the time Lauren Slater was 24, she had been hospitalized five times for attempted suicide. She was deeply depressed, she cut herself and she obsessive-compulsively tapped objects to calm her overtaxed nervous system. So when Prozac came on the market in 1988, her psychiatrist recommended she try it.
. . .
She filled her prescription, and the result was “the most miraculous thing that ever happened to me,” she says. Within three days, her obsessive-compulsive symptoms began to recede, and within five days, they were gone. By day 10, she was actually feeling good.
. . .
Now, 30 years and a dozen different psychotropic medicines later, Slater has learned that the pills she took presented something of a Sophie’s choice — her body or her mind.
In her new book, “Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs That Changed Our Minds,” Slater, who is both a science writer and psychologist, describes how the medicines that allowed her to lead a relatively normal life for many years — marriage, babies, books — robbed her of her physical health.
At 54, she finds herself with the body of an “octogenarian with issues,” she writes. She has failing kidneys, diabetes, is overweight and is losing her memory.
“My lifetime now seems seriously foreshortened, not because of a psychiatric illness but because of the drugs I have taken to treat it.”
There’s more at the link.
Next, the New York Times notes that “Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit“.
Nearly 25 million adults … have been on antidepressants for at least two years, a 60 percent increase since 2010.
The drugs have helped millions of people ease depression and anxiety, and are widely regarded as milestones in psychiatric treatment. Many, perhaps most, people stop the medications without significant trouble. But the rise in longtime use is also the result of an unanticipated and growing problem: Many who try to quit say they cannot because of withdrawal symptoms they were never warned about.
. . .
The drugs initially were approved for short-term use, following studies typically lasting about two months. Even today, there is little data about their effects on people taking them for years, although there are now millions of such users.
. . .
In New Zealand, where prescriptions are also at historic highs, a survey of long-term users found that withdrawal was the most common complaint, cited by three-quarters of long-term users.
Yet the medical profession has no good answer for people struggling to stop taking the drugs — no scientifically backed guidelines, no means to determine who’s at highest risk, no way to tailor appropriate strategies to individuals.
“Some people are essentially being parked on these drugs for convenience’s sake because it’s difficult to tackle the issue of taking them off,” said Dr. Anthony Kendrick, a professor of primary care at the University of Southampton in Britain.
Again, more at the link.
I have very limited experience with antidepressants. Some years ago, following a period of intense job-related stress, magnified by the tragic sudden death of a very close friend, I felt overwhelmed. My physician suggested I try a common antidepressant, but I soon found that it made me feel as if a sort of fuzzy blanket was spread over my ability to think. I was more comfortable, but also not myself, and not able to respond to things (and people) around me as I usually did. (Some, of course, might have considered that an improvement, but we won’t go there . . .) I stopped taking them, deciding it would be better to deal with the problems out of my own resources and not rely on a chemical crutch. I’ve never used them since then.
On the other hand, I can understand their utility for people with serious chemical imbalances in their brain, as Ms. Slater appears to be afflicted. Unfortunately, while they seem to solve that problem, no-one appears to have thought about the other side of the coin – their side effects, particularly long-term, and their addictive nature.
Where to now? I suppose it’ll be impractical to simply cut off antidepressant prescriptions, for fear of sparking a massive health crisis and social backlash. It’s a problem we’ve made for ourselves. How do we get out of it? Your guess is as good as mine.