Posted: September 5, 2008 in Health and sickness
Tags: , ,

What is depression? I know a little about bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia but whenever I’ve tried asking anyone (medical professional or otherwise) to define straight, no-frills depression and I’ve never got further than a posh version of “what a silly question”. And yet during May 2007 my GP diagnosed me as being depressed on the basis of a ten minute consultation during which I confided how utterly frustrated and miserable I was at my debilitated physical state, due to an on-going chest condition. Instead of making serious attempts to speed the process of finding a diagnosis and cure for my chest – which is still in a bloody awful state over a year later – he chose instead to go down a ridiculous and confusing cul-de-sac that would affect my life for a year.

“A lot of people won’t take any kind of anti-depressants” he told me. I believed that to ignore a doctor’s advice was foolish, so…”They’ll be some, er, tremors, you know…” he intoned, conspiratorially. I think that he meant irregular bowel movements, loose faeces and generally spending ages on the toilet. I also regularly had dilated pupils and felt a bit high. This lasted a few weeks then the Prozac (which is a brand name for Fluoxetine) started to work as normal – I had fewer emotional ups and downs than usual but no other noticeable changes. At my next doctor’s appointment I reported that the drug had had no affect whatsoever on my physical condition so I’d rather stop taking it. However, I was shocked to learn that the course lasted six months and was advised to double the dose to 40mg a day just in case that helped. I tried this but it just made me very tired – I couldn’t cope with it and went back to 20mg.

Simple prescription errors meant that pretty soon I changed GPs.  I asked my new doctor if I should carry on with the Prozac. She took an altogether more head-tilted-to-one-side approach to medicine, suggesting I should maybe try stopping the course for a few days to see if the symptoms reoccurred. My efforts to discover what the symptoms actually were merely resulted in further head tilting. Efforts to discuss any mood variations garnered some unintentionally amusing advice to consult biorhythm charts – but it wasn’t really very funny.

Eventually after reading what I could on the Internet I decided to stop taking the Prozac. Week one was much as I expected – some stomach cramps and headaches, a bit like giving up smoking only not quite as bad. In week two I was feeling completely normal but in week three I started feeling dreadfully anxious for no apparent reason and the toilet problems re-occurred.

Two months on and I’m fully back to myself, yet I occasionally struggle to come to terms with the full range of emotions at my disposal. I’m a bit more up and down, more creative and humorous yet more irritable and sarcastic than I was on the drug. For the most part it wasn’t a particularly bad experience, just a real waste of time and money and a pointless subtle change in personality for me – not that I see any intentional foul play there at all – just incompetence. The lack of information given to me and the duff diagnoses are, in retrospect, shocking.

GPs are handing out high numbers of anti-depressants and perhaps they do work for people who actually have a related medical problem. But I would suggest these prescriptions should be based on the diagnosis of a mental health professional and be backed up with monitoring and counselling where appropriate. Until these conditions are met, I can see many patients replicating my unfortunate experience.

  1. I’ve had a similar experience with a family doctor prescribing anti-depressants for something other than depression. Except my ordeal spanned 2 years, the last year of which was hell and spent trying to taper my body off the addiction that had built up on the high dose I was elevated to. I think there must be some kind of kickbacks coming from the pharmacueticals to doctors that can write out the most anti-depressant prescriptions. They give them away like candy.

    And by the way, this is formerly “Jim Goose” who posted the video for “We Will Break” on your old bulletin board. I just stumbled across your post from 5 years ago that I had missed where you requested a DVD copy of the clip. I’ll send one over or upload an uncompressed version to my server as soon as I find the original.

  2. johnnyviolent says:

    That’s a sad tale. Maybe “kickbacks” is a little strong but the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS is not transparent – perhaps there is info out there but it isn’t something I know anything about. Of the people I know who have been prescibed anti-depressants around half found them problematic and nobody described them as beneficial.
    If you could upload and email me the link for the clip that’d be great, thanks very much. Also, email me your postal sddress and t-shirt size as you’re the first to post on my blog so win a shirt!

  3. Ian says:

    I’ve had a similar experience to you with Prozac — it just made me so tired all the time, which was worse than the depression and confusion… Some time ago I was on Seroxat, which is very similar to Prozac, and found that helped. Ironically it’s now deprecated in favour of Prozac after various scandals with trial data and all that.

  4. johnnyviolent says:

    Another horror – has anyone got any positive tales of anti-deppresants? Meantime, whenever I’ve been to hospital lately they’ve dropped “and you’re taking Fluoxetine?” into the conversation, even though I stopped it ages ago…GRRRR!

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