Thursday, 11 April 2013

Prozac: highs and lows

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?


  1. Interesting post Janckie - I first took Prozac 10 years ago and only lasted on them for 6 months as I felt emotionally numb. I started back on them approximately 5 moths ago and have titrated up to a high dose, and the jury is still out. It's very hard to say, I don't know how much, if any of the effect is placebo and whether my thoughts of suicide are genuine or a result of knowing this can be a side effect, or a bit of both. I am often in conflict about whether I should be taking them or not. It will be interesting to hear what others think about this interesting and important debate. Thanks for raising, Leanne

  2. What a brilliant post - I really enjoyed reading it and love the
    way you write - objective and factual, but at the same time asking people to think and consider. All the while keeping it interesting and friendly - oh yes and with fab pcitures. Thanks Laura

  3. I can't remember whether Prozac made me suicidal but I feel there should be more research into its side effects. I have a feeling it made me start to hear voices although I do accept I had genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia because my mum had it.

    1. Hi

      Many thanks for your comment with its personal perspective. I've recently been reading a book which my fellow blogger Laura recommended in a post from April - Top mental health books: Part 1 - which has made me really think about the relevance of damaging life events on a person's well-being... It's called Living with Voices: 50 Stories of Recovery. As Laura writes: "the people’s stories in this book tell us about personal trauma and stress and in my opinion their very human responses (e.g. hearing voices) to these adversities rather than a symptom of an illness."

      Well worth a read if you haven't come across it before.

      Thank you again for commenting.