You’d better get yourself some anti-depressants, Helen, advised Rosie, my concerned colleague as I burst into tears yet again and told her I would have to go home. ‘Don’t let him do this to you’. ‘You don’t want to end up in a psychiatric unit,’ she cautioned.
For weeks when anyone asked me how I was, or even looked at me, I cried. My mouth was forever dry, my breaths were short and quick, and my lonely heart beat so loudly and quickly I was sure I was headed for some major health problem as these symptoms of panic showed little sign of regression. But worst of all was the pain, the utter emptiness that I felt at the very core of my being.
As bad as I felt, I continued to refuse medication for what I considered was the result of a traumatic life event. I felt that the distress had to be experienced, endured, and that time would eventually dampen the loss – a little. But I was barely able to look after myself let alone the needs of those with whose care I was entrusted.
My breakdown began after I lost the most important person in my life. He had chosen to be with a younger woman and our supportive relationship ended. I was devastated. I had trusted him with my life and only then realised how much I had depended on his love, support and acceptance over the past 18 years.
But even though I understood what had caused my distress, the tears kept flowing and the frightening panic attacks continued to freak me out. Night after night I lay awake, and as each morning dawned, the battle to get to work began. Finally the exhaustion became too much and I began taking Avanza, an anti-depressant prescribed to deal with anxiety and to help me sleep. The pharmacology notes claim that this drug acts on the serotonin and noradrenaline receptors in the brain, and is thus thought to improve the symptoms of depression. I had now joined the other eighty-nine Australians in every 1,000 taking some form of anti-depressant daily.
Australia is now the second-highest prescriber of anti-depressant medication with our use having doubled over the last decade. Iceland is the only country that has a higher rate of the use of the drugs leading to the conclusion by experts that doctors are under pressure and over-prescribing. Gary Greenberg author of Manufacturing Depression claims that we have reached the stage in human existence where it is usual to understand our sadness, our discontent, our unhappiness as a disease. He takes this subject very seriously and asserts: What’s at stake is who we are, what kind of people we want to be.’ ‘What we think it means to be human’.
If what I suffered was depression caused by a traumatic life event then surely the best way to handle this was not to take medication, but to allow me the time to heal. But in our modern world it is difficult to have the time, space and support to get better naturally. I needed to keep working to pay the bills and yet my body was crying out for rest and freedom from daily responsibilities.
Clinical depression is regarded as a biochemical disease, a type of mood disorder in which the neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers appear to be out of balance. Greenberg questions the biochemical causation of depression. He says that scientists have not been able to come up with a single brain malfunction that is present in all forms of depression. And if it wasn’t for the predominance of the modern idea of ‘the pursuit of happiness’ and the belief in the notion that depression exists, then the anti-depressant market would not have become the multi billion dollar industry that exists today.
Drug companies claim that more than 80% of depressed people can be successfully treated with anti-depressants. But in that case why are so many people still depressed? Are we in fact just benefitting from the placebo effect when we take anti-depressants? Therapist Mark Tyrrell asks us to think about the idea that anti-depressants now being sold globally to the tune of $19 billion a year, are nothing more than a placebo and one that produces side effects such as weight gain, constipation, sleep disruption, sexual difficulties, urinary retention and blurred vision. He cites the work of Irving Kirsch and Guy Sapirstein who carried out a huge meta-analysis study which found no ‘clinically significant’ difference between the improvement rates of people put on dummy sugar pills and those put on genuine anti-depressant medications.
I was on anti-depressants for just over a year. I think at best they might have dulled my reaction to the grief and allowed me to function. I couldn’t wait to get off them for as well as turning me into a victim of the anti-depressant industry, they are dangerous drugs which have the user clinging to the hope that they will feel better soon. When the promised cure doesn’t eventuate the chances are that worsening depression may follow, along with the need for stronger drugs, and even the desire to end one’s life.
This has been a really rough ride. One I never expected to be on. But what didn’t ‘kill me’ has hopefully made me a little stronger and although I will always regret my loss, life goes on.