Well, I seem to have started reading Laura's recommended reads in reverse order. Robert Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic looks at the relationship of psychiatric drugs to the increase in mental illness in the United States. Whilst reading I became aware that the anti-depressant or SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drug known as Prozac - the "happiness pill" - has only been around for 25 years (my old friend BBC Radio 4 broadcast Prozac Economy two days ago to "celebrate" the birthday). 25 years, a mere youngster.... sometimes it feels as if it has been around forever.
Prozac must be one of the most fiercely marketed and well-known drugs in the world. The brand name has made it into the language of popular culture (just like Sellotape, Hoover and Velcro did before it...) People readily refer to a Prozac fix. Elizabeth Wurtzel's book Prozac Nation had been made into a film by 2001, 7 years after publication. There is a whole industry out there dedicated to Prozac gifts (a quick Google search reveals all...)
But the big question is still, 25 years after its creation, does Prozac actually work?
On the radio broadcast writer Will Self interviewed Dr Robert Baker, a psychiatrist working at Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company responsible for creating Prozac. Dr Baker reported that Prozac had a "great impact on depression and helped many people, but had fallen short of helping everyone..." Will himself had been offered Prozac by his GP when trying to give up smoking. He suggested to the GP that "perhaps we're just meant to be unhappy... we'd be better of if we acknowledged it rather than papering over the gaps." The GP though believed that "anti-depressants don't just blot out the problem, they help you to cope with the problem."
But others are not so convinced, and there are some very outspoken critics of Prozac. Dr David Healy, the author of Let them eat Prozac, and Professor of Psychological Medicine at Cardiff University, is convinced that taking Prozac increases a person's suicide risk. And clinical psychologist Irving Kirsch questions whether anti-depressants like Prozac work any better than a placebo in The Emperor's New Drugs.
Of course, Prozac is regularly prescribed by the NHS to treat depression. I don't have any figures for Wales, but according to the programme in 2011, in England, 46.7 million people were prescribed anti-depressants at a cost of about £120 million. Clearly it's not just Will Self's GP that believes they work. What do you think?