On SSRIs and irresponsible journalism
This week, Peter Gøtzsche published this article on the guardian website, saying psychiatric drugs are doing us more harm than good. His subtitle reads that “the UK is prescribing SSRI antidepressants at a staggering rate – and to no good effect”, an assertion I find not only erroneous, but irresponsible and dangerous.
In June 2012, I was diagnosed with severe depression and prescribed Citalopram, one of the most common Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). At the time of my diagnosis, I was in a bad way. I was unable to take proper care of myself, do my job properly or integrate with the rest of society. I was sleeping too much and interacting with others even less.
Before I went to my GP and requested a course of antidepressants, even being asked how I was by a friend or acquaintance was enough to make me feel extremely fatigued. Every time I was asked, I wanted to take a nap. Every time I answered, I lied.
Eventually my father, himself a doctor, sat me down and suggested I speak to my GP. Three weeks later, I began my course of SSRIs and quickly found my condition easier to manage. Taking medication helped me finally accept there was a problem I needed to address. It made me realise I was not alone, helping me speak out about my depression in a way I never felt comfortable doing before. It didn’t fix my problems, but it made it far easier to get out of bed and face them.
Talking to my doctor was a great decision, giving me back my quality of life and arguably even saving it altogether. The article published by the guardian this week is likely to deter scores of people from taking the same step, and that scaremongering makes me deeply uncomfortable.
The reason Gøtsche’s writing is so dangerous is that it will scare people away from seeking the help they may desperately need. Thanks to his piece, there is doubtless at least one person who will not visit their GP to talk about what’s plaguing them for fear they’ll be prescribed some vile medication that will only make things worse. That person will stay out of their GP’s office, keeping quiet about their condition when they could easily walk in and request to be referred to a therapist instead. SSRIs probably aren’t for everyone, but talking about mental health should be for all.
In his article, Gøtzsche asserts that ‘more than 53m prescriptions for antidepressants were issued in 2013 in England alone’, which sounds like a lot. It’s also a hopelessly skewed statistic.
My prescription has to be renewed every two months, making me responsible for six of those prescriptions each year - a figure that climbs to eight or nine when I consider the times I accidentally run out of meds and need an emergency prescription.
Moreover, when I started taking SSRIs, those prescriptions only lasted two weeks; the reason being that the medical professionals in charge of my care wanted me to check in with them. They wanted to ascertain that SSRIs were right for me, and that it was worth me continuing on the course. Gøtzche paints the picture of a healthcare system that simply fills patients’ pockets with pills and shows them the door; a picture as dangerous as it is misleading.
It’s been almost two years since I went to my GP about my depression. Over that time I feel SSRIs have made a world of difference, helping make my life liveable again. Though Gøtzsche seems convinced SSRIs have become a crutch for the nation, Citalopram helped me get the breathing room I desperately needed, setting the immediate pain of my depression just far back enough for me to get to its root causes and make a real change. Thanks to the NHS I completed a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, helping me to recognise whether a feeling, thought or behavioural pattern comes from me or my illness. I’m happier right now than I’ve ever been: I’ve started a new career, I’ve got my confidence back, and this year I got engaged. Citalopram didn’t do that for me, but it gave me the strength I needed to pull myself up.
I’m still taking SSRIs; I plan to do so for the next few months. If I’m honest, I don’t feel like I need them any more, but ensuring I’m definitely strong enough to carry on without a helping hand feels like the responsible thing to do. The idea that Peter Gøtzsche would try and dissuade people from even considering that same helping hand is profoundly distressing.
If you feel you may be suffering from depression, please don’t suffer in silence, no matter who you speak to. There are several online resources to help you learn more and make an informed decision.
Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90