Do you have a tendency to see the glass half-empty? Are you often worried or anxious? Do you have feelings of low self-esteem, low confidence, self-criticism or guilt? Are you obsessive – with work, computer games, drugs, other? Do you routinely crave sweet snacks at night, or alcohol or marijuana at night? Have you experienced fibromyalgia or TMJ?
The above questions are those used to determine whether a person can be diagnosed as “depressed” – most specifically, “depressed due to low serotonin.” Chances are, if you’ve answered “Yes” to many of those questions in a doctor’s office, you’ve been prescribed an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. Now… I don’t want to open a can of worms here (i.e., provoke an endless online debate) about the relative merits of antidepressant prescriptions. I just want to put forward some information I’ve gleaned from two very useful books I’ve read recently.
I started this inquiry after hearing about three absolutely tragic events this summer, most probably attributable to side effects from anti-anxiety medications. I know I’m citing anecdotal incidents – not clinical trials – but three incidents in one summer involving a close friend and two tangential friends -- these got my attention. Anyway, I found myself wondering, once again, “Since people are aware of the harmful side effects of antidepressant/anxiety meds, why are they still taking them? Why are doctors still prescribing them?” And the simple answers to those questions, as you probably know are 1) desperation, 2) lack of better (known) options, and 3) “follow the money.”
Item # 1 in that list is self-evident. Item # 3 – you’ve all heard my rant on this, so I will spare you at this time. It’s item #2 I’ll be discussing here. What other options are available, yet less well known?
The two books I mentioned have been around for a while, published in 2000 and 2002 respectively, but they’ve just now popped into my reading list. “Your Drug May be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications,” was written by two M.D.s, Peter R. Breggin and David Cohen. Now, if you’ve read the title and you’re currently taking some psychiatric med, you undoubtedly think that I want you to stop taking it. NO. I love you and I don’t want you to do anything injurious to yourself or to anyone else. But information is power, and this book is a wealth of information. It presents a well-researched history of all types of psych meds – SSRIs, MAOIs, etc – their mechanisms, known uses, their positive and their adverse effects, plus the roles of the FDA, the media, the pharma companies, etc. And yes: it does give blueprints for the safe withdrawal from most known medications, for those who want to go there. (I’m not advising you try this without the help of a qualified health practitioner.)
One of the most important concepts I gleaned from this book was the fact that people taking psychiatric meds become, in the authors’ words, “spellbound by drugs” in a phenomenon known as “intoxication anosognosia.” “Anosognosia” means the inability to recognize illness in oneself. In other words, people taking them often feel themselves to be functioning better – and often fail to recognize impaired mental function in themselves – even when the people closest to them observe impairment or at the very least will say, “He/she still seems depressed.” Often, in fact, a person who has been taking antidepressants for a long time is likely to say,” Well yes, I am still depressed … but just imagine how I’d be if I weren’t taking the drugs!”
For my part, the “placebo effect” – a drug makes you THINK you’re better, even if clinically you’re not – does have some usefulness. In the absence of side effects, my thoughts are “What the heck. Feeling better is feeling better – who cares if it’s just a placebo!” But with psych meds, the side effects are often real, potent, dangerous, and well-concealed from the public. Okay. ‘Nuf said. Next post – review of a book that presents nutritional and herbal approaches to depression and anxiety.