It is estimated that ten million people in the United States take antidepressants. That’s unbelievable! When I used antidepressants I had high expectations for immediate results. When I did not feel better immediately, I was terrified–I was not I could wait until the drugs had a chance to work. I was always fearful that the depression and anxiety would not go away. I wondered if I would ever get better and feel good. The reality is that most antidepressants will not start working for a couple of weeks, and in many instances, a month or two.
It was even more terrifying for me when one antidepressant did not work and the psychiatrist would have to change to another. I developed this notion that there was an arsenal of drugs and cocktails available, and if one thing did not work than another would. Over the course of my depressions, I have lost count of how many different antidepressants or combinations of antidepressants I have tried. It was very frustrating for me and, I think, the psychiatrist. One psychiatrist agreed with me that I had a high suicide potential, so he put me on a regimen of lithium. Lithium is just a salt but, for whatever reason, it may be the most effective treatment for individuals with depression and high suicidal ideation.
When I took lithium, it “locked down” any kind of emotion. I felt like I was in an “emotional strait-jacket. I did not feel anything. I was only functioning albeit high level. Under the circumstances, lithium was probably the right choice for me. I chose not to stay on Lithium, however, because of the potential impact on my internal organs, specifically the kidneys. It is a drug that has to be closely monitored with blood tests. While I was able to get myself off Lithium without side effects, some of the other antidepressants I’ve taken had some unsettling and alarming side effects.
Probably the most effective antidepressant I have used is one of the original Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. (SSRI’s) On a couple of occasions, I have used Paxel very effectively. Paxil alleviates OCD-type symptoms and is often used with individuals who worry too much. It is effective with PTSD as well. One of the side effects of Paxil is that it increases one’s appetite, and like most individuals who have taken it, I gained weight–a lot of weight. Another unfortunate effect of Paxil is that once you are on it, it can be very difficult to get off it. It is never recommended that you go off Paxil “cold turkey” because of the withdrawal symptoms also known as “Serotonin Syndrome.” I attempted to do that and had some of the craziest experiences: headaches, strange tinkling experiences in the head, my heart pounding, and cold sweats. I also had vivid dreams–what they call “hypnogogic dreams.” These dreams were so real to life that sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was in a dream or actually awake. They got so bad I was afraid to go to sleep.
My experience with depression and suicide were very scary and of great concern to those around me. I felt there was something missing–perhaps a lot of things. That led to my feelings of hopelessness for which I felt there were no options. I was not thinking clearly, but talking with others was helpful in that I realized I was not alone. When I did not get what I wanted and needed–love and attention–it drove me to think outrageous thoughts and behave in rather outrageous ways.
Depression is a complex disorder. The question I ask is whether or not drugs cure depression or just hide symptoms and mask the reality. Frankly, I do not think that drugs can or will cure depression. They may help or alleviate, but they do not cure. While I have not had the label of bipolar thrown at me, lithium is used for major depression. It locked down my emotions. It numbed me to everything. I realize that our healthcare community is so closely entwined with our pharmaceutical industry that the primary approach to anything perceived as a mental or emotional disorder is through drugs–anything to ease the pain. But I have questions: When does depression cease being a commonplace emotion and become a clinical disease? Many things in life can be depressing. When does depression cross over into a clinical condition? When do you start sensing that something is not working?
Depression has always been with us. This is not a new experience yet the usage of drug intervention has gone up dramatically. Some of this usage is irresponsible and the usage of these drugs as a profit motive is, at best, ethically challenged.