Frankie Mullin writes for The Guardian:
Use of antidepressant drugs has become more common than ever before. Perhaps it’s time that we looked at the wider causes of this trend
The chances are that you know someone who takes antidepressants. Or maybe you take them yourself. If so, you are in good company. More than 50m prescriptions for antidepressants are written in the UK every year and, although the not all of the pills will be swallowed – taking into account repeat prescriptions and failure to collect from pharmacies – the figure is still staggeringly high.
There’s a positive side to the 50m statistic, though. It suggests that as the stigma has decreased, people have become more willing to ask for help. And, for many, antidepressants work. However, while professionals are quick to acknowledge the benefits – which can be life-saving – many express concern about our growing dependence.
“Prescription levels have gone through the roof,” says Dr Matthijs Muijen, head of mental health at WHO Europe. “On the demand side, people know antidepressants work. I would even argue there’s a degree of fashion about antidepressants. On the supply side, antidepressants have become cheaper and more easily available. Doctors now know it’s easy and ‘good’ to prescribe.”
Key to arguments around antidepressant use are questions about what constitutes “normal” sadness and where the boundary lies between this and clinical depression. There is no cut-and-dried answer, and this ambivalence around the use of antidepressants seems to be characteristic of those taking them. “It’s not ideal, but I just make use of the resources available,” is a characteristic response.
Lisa Cunningham, 45, was signed off on sick leave and prescribed Prozac after suffering problems at work. Soon afterwards, she was attacked, leaving her with facial injuries and even deeper depression. For nearly 11 years, Lisa remained on medication, becoming steadily more withdrawn, until she barely left the house.
Cunningham’s story has a positive outcome: after being referred to a volunteering scheme by her GP she got involved in a gardening project which led to a full-time job. She then felt able to stop taking her medication. “Antidepressants did a vital job and I definitely think I had clinical depression,” Cunningham says. “But I was a nervous, anxious child.” She explains that while growing up, she was subjected to physical aggression from people close to her, “so it was almost inevitable I’d get depression. Looking back, it would probably have been better if I’d had some sort of psychotherapy in school.”…
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