Prozac: Mania


"Yeah, I\'m on Prozac," I hear quite often, said as if the speaker had
just received a new Porsche. I often do catch myself responding with, "I\'m on
Zoloft isn\'t modern medicine great?" In a way, this exchange is a way of
bonding. In another, more twisted way, it is a way of receiving a stamp of
approval from my peers, for antidepressants have become extremely widespread and
widely accepted. "Prozac...has entered pop culture...becoming the stuff of
cartoons and stand-up comedy routines" ‹and, of course, really bad jokes by
people who do not take the drug. (Chisholm and Nichols 36).
These days, being prescribed an antidepressant carries less stigma than
in the past. "Prozac has attained the familiarity of Kleenex and the social
status of spring water" (Cowley 41). Gone are the days when the label "loony"
is slapped upon a person taking these drugs. Antidepressants have become almost
as commonplace as Tylenol. Prozac is being prescribed for much more than
clinical depression. Some of the other illnesses that are treatable by Prozac
include bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and dysthymia, which is chronic
low-grade depression. In some cases, it is even prescribed for anxiety or low
self-esteem (Chisholm and Nichols 38).
Part of the popularity of Prozac stems from declining health care. "As
medical plans cut back on coverage for psychotherapy, says [Dr. Robert] Birnbaum
of Boston\'s Beth Israel, psychiatrists feel pressure simply to Śmedicate and
then monitor side effects\'" (Cowley 42). General practitioners, however, write
the majority of Prozac prescriptions. Both of these scenarios raise concerns,
as some psychiatrists state that it can be dangerous for antidepressants to be
used without concurrent psychotherapy sessions (Chisholm and Nichols 38). When
I discontinued my therapy sessions after two years, yet still continued to take
my antidepressants, I felt as if something was missing from my life. Therapy
has been a very important part of my treatment, and I would not have recovered
as well if I had not attended regular psychotherapy sessions.
With the common use of Prozac and other antidepressants, another
consideration arises: are these drugs becoming a substitute for really coping
with problems? Prozac and the related antidepressants, such as Paxil and Zoloft,
are known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They prevent
brain cells from re-absorbing used serotonin, which can elevate the moods and
thoughts of people suffering from depression (37). But "no disease can be
blamed solely on a serotonin imbalance" (Watson 86). External factors and
genetics often affect depression. As a two-year recipient of Zoloft, I
discovered that, during the course of my treatment, my interludes of depression
would return at stressful times, despite the medication. Mental illness also
runs in my family. On my father\'s side of the family, my great-grandmother
suffered from dementia, and on the maternal branch of the family tree, my mother
shows signs of dysthymia.
This, of course, does not mean that clinical depression is not caused by
a serotonin imbalance. The truth is, researchers are still looking for the
causes of emotional illnesses in order to design more specific solutions (86).
In the meantime, many people are receiving Prozac and related
medications for trivial personality disorders, and a stigma remains firmly
attached to people with genuine mental illness. "Mental illness is still often
thought of as something you or your parents did wrong," which is another reason
why many patients are simply taking the medication instead of also seeing a
therapist (Marrou). I will readily admit that I am on Zoloft, but I usually
keep my "shrink" appointments a secret from all but my closest friends.
Of course, the pop culture references only serve to heighten the overall
contempt toward younger people on antidepressants, and the glamour of taking
them. In the recent Kids in the Hall movie, "we [were] offered a wacky
dystopian vision of a world Prozaced out of its wits" (Ansen). This refers to
the wide usage of antidepressants to treat trivial disorders. "Happy pills for
every occasion" ‹doctors are still looking for the perfect way to treat minor
personality disorders (Chisholm and Nichols 40). It seems that taking Prozac is
"cool," especially among young people, who can prove that they, too, are angst-
ridden and rich enough to take these seemingly designer drugs.
Yet, where would Sylvia Plath be if she had taken an antidepressant?
True, she would be alive, but her work would not have been so introspective or
moving. She would also have been easily forgettable. Prozac is said to reduce
insight and emotions (Cowley 42). As a recipient of Zoloft, I can attest to
that statement. My moods have been dulled. I once