The use of antidepressants has surged over recent years, the number of prescriptions keeps on rising…but they’re not just prescribed for people who are clinically depressed…it’s for anyone who feels low…are we getting any better?
* This post will focus on the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, known as SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors).
An example of an SSRI is the well known US brand, Prozac, aka Fluoxetine in the UK.
* DISCLAIMER: This is a general discussion and any opinions expressed are not given as a healthcare professional. Always fact check. Always discuss any changes in medication with your GP. Always seek medical attention if you are experiencing difficulties with your mental health.
Part of the antidepressant epidemic could be down to our GP’s and Mental Health Services (or lack of). People who experience daily states of sadness and low motivation, seek help from their doctor. Doctors often have little experience with mental health, but naturally want to help, so they might prescribe tablets and perhaps refer a patient to a huge waiting list for therapy. With so little help available, we trust our doctor and take these tablets in an effort to get rid of our sadness.
But feeling unhappy doesn’t necessarily mean we have a chemical imbalance in our brain that needs antidepressants…
Where’s the Evidence, Big P?
Big Pharma seems to make sure that all the studies with positive results for antidepressants get publicity, the ones which show no effect, or even a worsening of symptoms, seem to get buried.
A meta-analysis (big study of all registered drug trials) was conducted. It found that of all studies carried out between 1987-2004 into antidepressants, only 50% of the trials had positive results, the other 50% showed negative outcomes.
The clinical trials with negative results weren’t published OR may have been manipulated to appear positive.
A second meta analysis found that the benefits of antidepressants are limited in people with moderate depression and low in people with severe depression.
Big Pharma also only seems to ask for short term studies to use as evidence, not long term studies. Prof. David Cohen says this is because after 2-3 months, the drugs begin to stop working and the placebo effect also wears off.
And it gets worse! When you tell your doctor the antidepressants aren’t working, they might even add an anti-psychotic drug on top!
Prof. Shipko (Psychiatrist) claims there are a number of medical professionals who do stand up against Big P and criticize antidepressant use. Unfortunately, they are ridiculed and called “anti psychiatrists” by drug companies.
How do the Drugs Work?
In simple terms, they make Serotonin (your brain’s natural happy chemical) more available in your brain. They don’t make more of it for you, they just keep it available and swimming around for longer.
This leads a lot of people to think that if an antidepressant drug lifts their mood, the original problem must have been low serotonin.
This is a problematic way of thinking about depression because:
An individual’s brain chemistry is complex and varies from person to person.
Altering other brain chemicals than serotonin is also capable of causing depression.
Low mood is influenced by many other variables, such as your environment, circumstances, lifestyle choices, stress, trauma, coping strategies and self esteem.
Read the information leaflet: Thoughts of suicide, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, fits, strange thinking, confusion, aggression, hallucinations, sleep problems, headaches, memory problems, speech problems, nausea, diarrhea, tiredness, poor concentration, decreased sex drive, orgasm problems, dizziness, problems with balance, change in taste, shaking, twitching, blurred vision, flushing, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, indigestion, difficult swallowing, dry mouth, teeth grinding, itchiness, rash, hair loss, excessive sweating, joint pain, bruising, passing urine more frequently or difficult urinating, unexplained vaginal bleeding, low blood pressure, inflammation of the blood vessels, overproducing breast milk, reduced blood platelets, reduced white blood cells, lung problems, increased bone fractures.
An Extreme Case…
A 24 year old, former neuroscience student (James Holmes) entered a Cinema screening of the Dark Knight, dressed as the Joker, shooting 71 people and killing 12 people.
“These killings would never have happened had it not been for the medication James Holmes had been prescribed.” – Prof. David Healey
Prof. David Healey (Psycho-pharmacologist) was involved with the BBC’s Panorama series, which investigated violence and suicidal thoughts in people taking antidepressants. He visited James Holmes and insisted the antidepressants James Holmes was prescribed caused a psychotic episode.
This is an extreme example of potential serious side effects, but it shows that these tablets can affect everyone differently.
You shouldn’t stay on them for long.
Prof. Peter Gotzsche has voiced concerns that withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, often signal to the doctor that the patient needs to remain on antidepressant, when this is absolutely not the case. He has also raised concerns that doctors rarely ever help a patient taper off their medications properly, making more severe withdrawal reactions more likely.
Prof. Shipko notes that the avoidance of withdrawal effects could actually lead to addiction to antidepressants.
He has also claimed withdrawal could be delayed. Sometimes 3-6 months later, he reports that people can develop withdrawal symptoms due to drug toxicity in the form of intense anxiety and depression and akathasia (urges to move, restless feeling).
Everyone should be free to make their own choices about the medications they put into their body, but they should always be informed choices. Always do your own research.
It’s okay to feel sad sometimes.
Feeling sad is a normal human emotion! Our mood fluctuates like waves in the sea. Ask yourself if you are really depressed, or whether this is just a difficult phase in your life that you could get through by simply ‘riding the wave’, or making lifestyle changes, rather than masking your emotions with potentially addictive or harmful drugs. On the flip side, don’t feel ‘weak’ for using medication.
Always tell people how you’re feeling and seek support. Always seek urgent medical attention if things get too difficult.
It’s not all doom and gloom…there are other, healthy ways to combat low mood, such as addressing the way you perceive and cope with stress, through self help and meditation, challenging your negative thoughts and expectations, changing your diet (there is growing scientific evidence that bad bacteria in you gut, travels to your brain and affects your mood), getting regular exercise and getting out into nature.