I never wanted to go on anti-depressants. I never thought a tablet could help my sadness or anxiety. Seven years on and I have been on: citalopram, sertraline, escitalopram, venlafaxine, and fluxoetine. I have had various side effects and still feel dire. I am stuck on the medicine because of the hell of coming off them. Some would say this is because I need the medicine but I disagree. People who take illegal drugs experience a withdrawal if they try to stop. Coming off anti-depressants is similar, although for some reason these drugs are legal.
I am reading an excellent book called Lost Connections by Johann Harri. Here’s an extract from page 30:
The clinical psychologist Dr Lucy Johnstone was more blunt still. “Almost everything you were told was bullshit,” she said to me over coffee. The serotonin theory “is a lie. I don’t think we should dress it up and say, ‘oh, well, maybe there’s evidence to support that.’ There just isn’t”
I’m only 40 pages in but I am already gripped by Johann’s exploration of the history of anti-depressants.
The history seems very much like gossip. Let’s pretend, someone at school says ‘Tom has chickens in his garden’…after a few people have overheard this, incorrectly, and spread the tale it’s not long before we learn that ‘Tom has a chicken for a girlfriend’. The two phrases are completely different and almost incomparable. Similar to the serotonin story…
We begin in 1952 when hospital patients with TB were given a drug which made them dance uncontrollably and then spurred scientists to try this drug with depressed individuals. Just over a decade later in 1965 and after a range of drug trials, Dr Coppen, asked ‘what if all these drugs were boosting serotonin?’ Then, add corrupt Big Pharma to a range of (inherently flawed) drugs trials and you have a field of biased studies reporting the benefits of anti-depressants to restore a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain. But we don’t even know what the optimum balance is. We’ve gone from Tom having chickens in his garden/dancing TB patients to Tom dating a chicken/70.9 million NHS prescriptions for anti-depressants in 2018. (An article by Iacobucci (2019) discusses the massive rise in prescriptions.)
Where is the evidence for these drugs? There doesn’t seem to be any.
Earlier today I found something I wrote:
I have finally picked up my prescription for the new antidepressant….I’m willing to give it a go I just hope that it helps a little bit. I know that antidepressants can make you feel worse before you begin to feel slightly better. I really don’t know how much more I can take. I feel like a completely different person I’m so sad angry hopeless and disinterested. I am a nightmare to be around, I think my partner must have the patience of a saint. I wish I knew what started this. It’s like I woke up one day and someone had swapped me with some complete and utter walking disaster.
It feels like I could have written it yesterday but in fact it was from 8th August 2017. Where have the past 2 years gone? Anti-depressants certainly haven’t helped my brain. I feel like the years have vanished and I am no closer to feeling okay.
- Hari, J. (2018). Lost connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression–and the unexpected solutions. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
- Iacobucci, G. (2019). NHS prescribed record number of antidepressants last year. BMJ, 364, l1508.