Are You Taking an Antidepressant?

- Lynda Bateman

A show of hands please, how many of you have been prescribed or are currently taking anti-depressants?

If my audience is typical, almost two in ten of you are raising your hand.

A friend’s story keeps banging around my head. She was prescribed anti-depressants to keep her calm after a Bell’s palsy episode that left her face mildly slack. Her GP told her the prescription would help her deal with the stress that brought on the BP episode. The doctor told my friend the medication was temporary and that she would learn, with the help of anti-depressants, how to cope and eventually not need them. That was twelve years ago. Five years ago my friend, concerned about the amount of time she’d been taking anti-depressants, approached that same doctor. When she reminded her what she told her seven years prior, how the medication was a temporary ‘bridge’ and that she was now hoping to come off them the doctor looked her up and down and said, ‘Why fix what ain’t broke?’

Doctors vs MD’s

There are many things unsettling with that story. I count eleven, maybe more so let’s focus on the most disturbing: The overly casual doctor, the under-monitored diagnosis but above all, how comfortable her GP was for her patient to remain on medication instead of well, not.

Pointing out obvious indiscretions in her treatment of my friend are not the point of this article it does however highlight the main problem with the relationship between GP’s and anti-depressants today –They are casual, un-monitored and over prescribed.

Practitioners arguing against the use of anti-depressants are somehow more convincing and clear-headed than their GP counterparts who may encourage use. Des Spence, GP writes, “I think that we use anti-depressants too easily, for too long, and that they are effective for few people (if at all).”

Based on a 2011 study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Far too often, the wrong people are on antidepressants, and the right people aren’t taking them. Just one third of severely depressed people who really need the medication are taking it, while more than two thirds on anti-depressants are not currently depressed.

A Depressing History

A 2013 report by the School of Psychiatry at UNSW shows alarming increases in the patterns of anti-depressants and other psychotropic prescriptions from 2000 to 2011. In little more than ten years, an increase of 58.2% in the prescribing of psychotropic drugs including a 95.3% increase in anti-depressants. Go back five more years and rates soar to an astounding 400%! So are we 400 times crazier than we were during the millennium bug scare?

Rates of anti-depressant use continue to escalate every year between 9 and 11%. Anti-depressants are now the third most prescribed class of medications in the US and first in the 18 to 44 age group.

A Fine Mess

How did we get into this mess? There apparently is no mystery according to Allen Frances, MD. As the main author in his report on the 2011 CDC study he states,

‘The massive overuse of antidepressants and antipsychotics began about fifteen years ago when drug companies in the US were given an unprecedented privilege to suddenly be free to advertise directly to their potential customers on TV, in magazines and on the Internet. Companies aggressively built up their marketing to doctors who were “educated” into the notion that depression was being frequently missed in their practices and that it is a simple “chemical imbalance” easily corrected by a pill.’

Here is where antidepressants first meet casual. Finally, the drug companies had a nonspecific drug they could sell to their GP’s for a nonspecific illness, with very little need to access the patient on an ongoing basis- a financial trifecta for the pharmaceutical industry.

Frances goes on to say, “The casual medicalization of normality mislabeled as sick many people with nothing more than the expect-able symptoms of everyday life. The results are what we see today, an entirely predictable overuse encouraged by the drug companies geared towards making huge profits.”

Staggering Profits

Anti-depressants are the single most profitable drug in the history of the likes of Glaxo Smith Kline, Pfizer, Wyeth and Forrest Industries with annual profits in the tens of billions USD for each company and it’s hard to not see immediately something is terribly wrong when stories of criminal indictments race around the internet almost daily of big Pharma manipulating drug trials and pharmaceuticals like Pfizer famously fined billions for illegally promoting the use of its anti-psychotic drug Geodon.

It’s unsettling the sheer number of criminal allegations against the big pharmaceuticals today but the worst is when manipulations are geared towards children.

A GlaxoSmithKline memo, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, referred to a study of the antidepressant Seroxat (paroxetine) for children. The memo said: “It would be unacceptable to include a statement that efficacy had not been demonstrated, as this would undermine the profile of paroxetine.”

If profit not health is the aim for drug companies to get their product placed in as many GP surgeries as possible then ultimately anti-depressants will be and have been fatally un-monitored and over-prescribed. The system is flawed if it is in the interest of the GP and the drug company to sell not heal.

Are we really that sick?

No, is the short answer. Dr. David Healy in a 2012 interview by Dr. Joseph Mercola on How the Pharmaceutical Industry Profits from False Claims states, ‘Nearly 40 years’ worth of research has yielded no evidence whatsoever to support the hypothesis that depression is caused by abnormalities in your serotonin system.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) are the common form of antidepressant and a much less effective treatment for clinical depression than is commonly thought. In fact, some suggest it’s the drug’s action on the serotonin system that might be responsible for the drugs’ ability to cause violent and suicidal ideation.’

It is proposed by Dr. Healy and many doctors like him SSRI’s make us sicker and can result in violent behaviour. There are countless links in cases of assault to anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, most recently the tragic story in Ireland of the murder in Bray in 2009 of Sebastian Crean by Shane Clancy. Shane reportedly was prescribed Citalpram an SSRI by a local GP. His mother, concerned about his behaviour because of the drug up to the murder described her son as ‘the nicest, kindest, funniest guy,’ and to this day maintains the Citalpram was responsible for the change in her son to cause him to commit murder. She is not alone in that thinking.

Normal is no longer ‘Normal’

Being prescribed an anti-depressant is so commonplace doctors are now encouraging them for people with thyroid dysfunction. As a sufferer of an auto immune disease I am familiar with the symptoms of the disorder. Non-specific and unrelenting symptoms cause sufferers to worry about their health, doctors have misinterpreted this for anxiety and have begun to offer SSRI’s as a way of ‘coping.’

Not only have I personally been prescribed a SSRI because of my illness, I polled the people I connect with the disorder. Almost every person I spoke with had at one time been offered the drug. I personally came off them in six months against the recommendation of my GP. Not a single person I polled had ever had a depressive history, like me, but a number of them had taken their GP up on their kind offer. Some are still taking the drug and would like to come off them and would have ‘anxiety’ listed on their permanent medical record.

Who Can You Trust?

Trust yourself. Anti-depressants are not the answer for everyday worries, symptoms, issues, complaints. These are the joys of life unfortunately and managing without them is far more rewarding. If you’re on them consider coming off them and speak to a doctor seriously about your concerns. Read as much as you can on the topic and speak to another doctor if you doubt yours. Remember, they are only people and you are allowed to disagree with them.

I can tell you first-hand anti-depressants create more symptoms then they quiet and only cover the problem that should be addressed in the first place. Yes, trust yourself, how else will you ever know you can manage without them unless you stop taking them.

There is a place for anti-depressants somewhere but consider the possibility that place might not be in your medicine cabinet.