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How Prozac-Haters Hurt People with Major Depression

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Depression has kept me standing at the ledge of suicide’s cliff my entire life. The drop looks long, but not scary. I remember a hard morning in the second grade. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, alone, sick inside, tears in my eyes, praying to God that I would die. I was serious. I begged him to let me die rather than live in torture, preferably before the first bell. I suppose I lacked faith because I am alive still.

I grew up with this feeling, but many people do not understand what major depression is. Most believe it’s just not feeling happy. They underestimate its power. Bill Scott wrote an engaging, though misguided, piece for Blogcritics titled “Treating anxiety and depression: What’s faith got to do with it?” He uses news and personal experience to discuss major issues in mental health, pharmaceuticals, medicine, and psychiatry.

Vincent van Gogh's 1890 painting Sorrowing old man ('At Eternity's Gate')

Depression can crush. Vincent van Gogh’s “Sorrowing Old Man,” 1890(Wikipedia)

He expresses his feelings with sincerity, starting off with some minor scandals in the pharmaceutical industry, and follows up with the healing power he found in spirituality. Spirituality healed his depression. I respond in order to engage his ideas, not degrade them.

I shudder, however, when people suppose their own experiences with depression are universal – that everyone else must feel the same. Specifically, I am affronted when people with a form of depression overgeneralize their subjective experiences, believing that all depression is alike. They assume themselves experts because they have gone through it. Often, these people bash the science of medicine with the thin stick of mythology and spiritualism.

God is the giver and taker of depression in their view. God controls who experiences depression, or at least who recovers from it.

Until a few years ago, I prayed to that God almost everyday, pleading for him to kill me to escape the pain. In those years, I also have sought the solace of the great, healing power. I have yet to hear from the man and regret having believed for so long that he might speak. Many faithful words have left my mouth, entering the silence of the air.

In his article, Scott falls into the trap of the faithful who try to undermine medicine in mental health by exploiting isolated instances of scandal or error. In terms of logic, this fallacy is called poisoning the well – a few problems are dropped into the well, and all the water turns bad.

In Scott’s case, the horror he picks at is that Eli Lily and Company markets Prozac for depression, while selling the exact same drug under the name Serefem, a pre-menstrual remedy. He complains, “Essentially the same pill is being prescribed for entirely different mental and physical ills.” He refers to a few similar examples in order to conclude:

  • Pills with the same chemical composition are being used to treat entirely different physical and mental conditions.
  • At least one manufacturer notes it is “unknown” how the drug works.
  • The theory upon which the design of antidepressants is based is “probably not correct.”

Scott discredits makers of meds like Prozac, asking sarcastically, “Does this sound scientific?” Well, Mr. Scott misunderstands science. I will consider each of his three arguments.

First, identical medicines frequently assist with completely different problems and are marketed under different names. This prevents consumers from confusion as to the purpose of the medicine they purchase. A couple of examples will illustrate. Benadryl is marketed to control allergies, and the identical drug is sold as a sleep aid in Nytol. It’s the same drug under different names for different purposes. This makes sense. Even more commonly, aspirin is marketed as an analgesic and separately as a heart medicine. The drug works for multiple symptoms. In short, drugs can serve more than one purpose, and can be marketed under different names to reflect that.

Second, in human history, rarely have we known why medicines work. For millions of years humans have used willow bark to ease pain. They consistently ingested it because the bark worked well. Now we know that willow bark contains aspirin, and we understand how aspirin regulates pain. Does this mean that humans were stupid for using it without knowing how it worked in the brain?

In fact, knowing how a drug functions in the body is rare throughout history. When you move to depression, which affects the brain, the most complex thing in the universe (as far as we know), we should expect not to understand why and how certain drugs work. We do not understand how our own brains are conscious, so how can we expect to comprehend exactly what an antidepressant does in the brain? In reality, however, we know much about how Prozac probably works in the brain.

Third, the theories that antidepressant therapies are based on could very well be incorrect, and the drugs could still function effectively. Scientific theories frequently are changed or negated; this is the nature of science, the way it is supposed to work. The scientific method operates as described by Kim Ann Zimmerman of Live Science:

A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. If enough evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, it moves to the next step – known as a theory – in the scientific method and becomes accepted as a valid explanation of a phenomenon.

When used in a non-scientific context, the word “theory” implies that something is unproven or speculative. As used in science, however, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena.

To suggest sarcastically that the processes in medicine are not scientific is to fundamentally misunderstand science. Scott views medicine and science through an inaccurate, colloquial definition, in order to dismiss pharmaceuticals. Theories change, evolve, and are sometimes thrown out. This is a system of error detection that works brilliantly.

The scientific method detects and corrects errors in the pursuit of accuracy. Scott dismisses Prozac as a legitimate antidepressant for no grounded reason. Prozac has been one of the most scientifically tested medicines in history, and has been proven safe, with relatively few side effects. If you just look at the work the FDA has done with Prozac, the amount of research is massive and favorable.

To dismiss science, evidence, and investigation of a drug and substitute it with a few flimsy tales and accusations is far from benign rhetoric. It does the public harm by perpetuating the stereotypes of mental illness and pharmaceuticals.

Scott shares his personal faith and story, which I will not attack. However, I will share my story too. Having coped with chronic major depression for 40 years, my experience has some validity. For 40 years I have dealt daily with suicidal thoughts, stemming from emotional pain. I have faced illness every day, feeling extreme lethargy, hopelessness, headaches, desperation, darkness, anxiety, and self-loathing – a fundamentally physical, though also mental, anguish.

Over these years, I was constantly counseled by religious zealots that I needed to be more positive, read more scripture, pray more frequently, buck up, and snap out of it. To me this sounded like being asked to snap out of cancer or heart disease. I could not do it. People might have at least suggested therapy, which might have been useful.

About a year ago, my psychiatrist added Prozac to my rainbow of medicines, and within a week, I felt better than I had in 40 years. I improved dramatically because of the Prozac. I don’t feel happy all the time, but I do feel happiness sometimes. I feel much less sadness. Science and medicine are the miracle workers here.

On the surface, the whole argument may seem trivial to you, but a massive population of sufferers like me exists all around you. The type of argument Scott makes hurts us, those with major depression. The rhetoric does us damage. Because of ignorance and fear spread by such people, many who suffer from major depression probably fear medicine and avoid doctors. I know many personally who feel guilty for taking medicine. Many depressed people won’t receive treatment because of the stigma that comes with mental illness.

Far from trivial, arguments such as Scott’s spread fear and ignorance, hurting people with major depression. Telling us that turning up our spiritual heat will heal us creates feelings of guilt in those already suffering.

Prozac is not perfect. We do not fully understand how or why it works. Prozac and its related medications (SSRIs) may be over-prescribed and may have flaws. However, one cannot simply discount the research and testing, nor the personal accounts of the millions of people it has saved, and instead assume you can wave depression away with a spiritual wand. For some that may work, but for many it does not, and people should be sensitive and sensible about the illness and treatment.

I’ll answer Scott’s question “What’s Faith Got to Do with it?” I say, nothing.

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About darinlhammond

Darin L. Hammond works for BlogCatalog, owns and writes at https://www.ZipMinis.com, and freelances as a writer and designer. Darin Publishes across the web on sites like Technorati, BC Blog, Blog Critics, Broowaha, Demand Media Studios, and Social Media Today.
  • Lorraine Pestell

    Thank you so much, Darin, for your informative and highly relevant post. I couldn’t agree with you more! I too have “grown up” with depression over a similar number of years, surrounded by people who know best how to make me snap out of it. Since I can remember, I have longed to find my hidden off-switch and activate it post haste! Unfortunately, God failed to bestow this basic human right on me too!

    Your support of Prozac and the like has strengthened my resolve to persist with yet another attempt to stick out that initial, darker-than-dark period of startng a new course of anti-depressants. The thought of feeling more often happy than sad is worth a try!

    Thank you and best wishes, Lorraine Pestell, Melbourne, Australia.

    • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

      Lorraine,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response and for having the courage to tell your story of support. We need each other for support, and I hoped that I would find others like you who needed to hear another take on the depression issue.

      And, I am so happy that you have the courage to try new medicine. Psychiatrists have access to so many tools that can help make life livable. It is frustrating searching for the right combination, but when you find it, the world is new. Try that medication and don’t feel any guilt about it. You deserve the hope that science and medicine provide, and you are headed in the right direction to escape the “darker-than-dark” period and find the light.

      Best of luck,

      Darin L. Hammond

      • Mo Bock

        There are a lot of people out there who are not getting relief because of the bad rep that some other people give certain drugs, or all drugs. I just read an article claiming that many herbal remedies have recently been discovered to contain rice flour instead of what was listed on the label, so now lots more people will be vilifying herbal remedies in general.

        The fact is, there are more unknowns than knowns, and it is frankly irresponsible of anyone to presume to give categorical advice on any subject. Even experts can be wrong. Years ago Timothy Leary, the LSD guru, introduced the concept of resisting the urge to make or promulgate judgments: be receptive to input, but treat it as evidence only. In some cultures, statements are often preceded by the disclaimer “I have heard it said that …” which is true, but does not presumeto present what was heard as truth.

        How many times have we heard someone say: “Well my aunt Gladys took those pills, and she blew up like the Hindenburg” or “Everybody knows the drug companies are just in it for the money, and don’t care who they kill.” Neither of these statements have anything useful to convey. It’s like saying: “I woke up feeling depressed and suicidal, and then a robin flew by my window and it all went away and I’ve been fine ever since!”

        The “information age” has spawned a lot of nonsense for the simple reason that the internet provides a platform [or soapbox] for anyone with an opinion or just a desire to be heard, and there are lotsa people out here who believe anything they hear on the radio, see on TV or read on the internet. If they insist in this practice, there is little to be done for them, but it does not preclue the sharing of legitimate information.

        In other words: caveat legit/vigilem/audientem … and above all: Deinde considerandum est de causa [courtesy of GoogleTranslate].

  • bliffle

    Prozac works. Twenty years ago the Psychiatrist prescribed Prozac and gave me a small sample, I went out and had a drink of water with it and suddenly I felt better! And it kept working for a long long time. Of course, I realized I was very suggestible. So, I quit watching commercial TV, knowing that I’m a sucker for the clever suggestible ads. And that has made me happier.

    Eventually, Prozac ran it’s course and I found that group therapy worked equally well, especially since a woman in the group was so appealing and beautiful that she gave me hope (warranted or not, it doesn’t matter). When that lapsed I found that Celexa relieved my anxieties and thus my depression.

    Now I’m 76 and for 10 years have no depression. All I can say is that if you can survive that depression will recede, if you have some other interests.

    • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

      Bliffle,

      Excellent point here. Prozac works, but it is not a cure all, and sometimes it quits working or another remedy is better suited for a certain person. The group therapy idea is an awesome alternative as are other forms of therapy. So happy to hear that you are depression free. And that is what I hope for all.

      Darin

    • Isabelle Morton

      I’ve been suffering from depression for a while. I wondered if Prozac works, but the side effects do worry me… like the loss of a sexual drive. Anyone care to share more about it? I want to be happy. Desperately, but I fear so much.

      Otherwise, I’ve heard amazing things.

  • Jeff

    I completely agree with you, we all know that Prozac works and it doesn’t really matter that scientists don’t exactly know why it works. There is always a time gap between theoretical and experimental research, most scientific discoveries were the result of experiments and only later they were explained by theory.

    There are millions of people who take Prozac every day to fight depression and so far we know of minimal side effects, if any. Ironically, most vocal “anti-medicationists” are the ones who never had any mental health conditions. Prozac is not an only option against depression and anxiety, here is an overview of available anti-depressants: http://www.dreampositive.info/anti-anxiety-medication-list/

    • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

      Thanks for the comment, Jeff. You correctly point to the gap in time between theoretical research and a solid explanation of the theory that has been tested. If we are so frightened by pharmaceuticals that we turn to completely irrational measures, we are only hurting ourselves.

      You are also correct that there are other remedies that are viable and should be tried. The point is that for the mentally ill, every resource should tried within reason. Thank you for the great link.

      Darin

    • Jordan

      It does work. It’s scientologists and anti-depression people that are trying to fizzle out the truth. Prozac helps.

  • G

    The argument that we should not talk about the bad effects of mental health treatments because some people befit from that treatment and by talking about the problems we will drive away those who might be helped is absurd. What about the people whose lives were ruined by treatment? Is their suffering any less important? Mental health is not your friend. It’s an industry that wants to sell product and to suppress stories of people getting hurt.

    • Mike

      “Mental health is not your friend”… are you for real? Sure, the companies make profits on drugs, but would it be better if people with depression didn’t have medications? According to NIH, 11% of American 18-years-olds are diagnosed as depressed. Can you just imagine the suicidal rate we would have in this country… Re: suffering of people “whose lives were ruined by treatment”? Sorry, but most people suffer much more without treatment, so I am fine with whatever remedy can help reduce or eliminate suffering, be it drugs, faith, or witchcraft. As long as it works…

    • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

      G,

      I do not believe that we should not talk about the bad effects, but that we should talk about both the good and the bad rationally. Your approach just isn’t rational, and it’s highly biased. What support to you have for your claim that Prozac is hurting so many people and destroying so many lives? You don’t even provide a single example of what you are talking about.

      “Mental Health” refers to your mental state of being, and it is everyone’s friend. No one benefits from an absence of mental health.

      Darin

      • G

        It is obvious that you have done little research on the topic and are completely uninformed about it. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to gain some expertize about the topic. There are many articles out there documenting how antidepressants cause harm. That you don’t know about any of them proves that you are not to be taken seriously.

        • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

          If there are so many, why didn’t you include a single link? And, why do you think that insulting me supports your point of view? If I’m not to be taken seriously, then why have you commented on this post? If you want to be taken seriously include some research of your own as I did. We are adults not children arguing on the playground.
          Darin

          • g

            4000+ stories of people being hurt by antidepressants http://ssristories.com/index.php

            Scientific proof that antidepressants don’t work as advertised based on the data submitted to the FDA by the drug companies themselves. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/?pagination=false

            “Altogether, there were forty-two trials of the six drugs. Most of them
            were negative. Overall, placebos were 82 percent as effective as the
            drugs, as measured by the Hamilton Depression Scale (HAM-D), a widely
            used score of symptoms of depression.”

            I have commented because your article is deeply misleading and harmful to vulnerable people who want relief but may get hurt rather than helped.

          • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

            Well, that’s more like it G. You have a persuasive argument now. Your first source isn’t very credible, but your second is.

            Still, “82% as effective” leaves room for me and millions of others, and that is what I base my argument on largely. For someone who has experienced relief after 30+ years, feeling whole again is worth talking about, especially in the face of tenacious opposition.

            The fear of trying antidepressants is a real problem for people in my position, and I take it seriously. I contend, along with a majority of psychiatrists and victims of depression, that they are worth trying. Making people frightened of them perpetuates the suffering that we have felt all our lives.

            If I had been discouraged by you or someone else not to try, I would still be suffering. So, despite your argument that it doesn’t work for everyone, it works for me and I am happy now. No negative side effects.

            http://thoughtcatalog.com/kate-bailey/2013/10/prozac-saved-my-life-and-other-reasons-one-experience-with-psychiatric-drugs-does-not-account-for-them-all/

          • g

            If their stories are not credible, why should the reader find your story credible? If anecdotal stories, positive or negative, are never credible, then your entire argument falls apart. For example, one could argue that you are just experiencing a placebo effect rather than genuine relief caused by meds. And that would imply that prayer would for some people have the same effect. Yet you attack another writer for suggesting the possibility.

          • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

            Thanks for the extended discussion g. I do value criticism and you do make a point here. However, I was referring to “the source” or the website, not the stories themselves. While it is difficult to analyze the validity of any one story, it’s very easy to check the reputation of a website. The fact that Blogcritics editors have screened me and edited my work over time combined with the fact that Blogcritics is a more credible site, does give my story more power. Not that all others should be discounted, but they are more difficult to establish any level of credibility.

            Let me restate, I did not attack any other writers, but the source itself. And, I am vulnerable to error as you point out – I may be experiencing the placebo effect for all you know.

            Thanks again,

            Darin

    • alexandra bimmel

      I feel the exact same way. We can’t keep sheltering the topic mental health. If we don’t address it, we will never be comfortable with it. Depression affects so many people — veterans, mothers, fathers, children, sisters, wives, etc. We need to open up the door of communication and lead to something greater than can cure this terrible mental health issue.

  • Mo Bock

    Right now there are several companies profiting from the sale of water. Safe water, pure water, the stuff you supposedly can’t get from your tap. Does this make water bad? Hardly. What is bad is the misrepresentation of tap water, the paranoia this instills, and the countless dollars spent by many people pointlessly, many who can’t afford it. So stay away from water? Yes. The stuff in the plastic bottles. Unless of course you are in a place where water is neither safe nor plentiful.

    • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

      Mo,

      An interesting perspective and analogy. If you extend the analogy at the end, there are some people who cannot tolerate the normal tap water and need something more refined to stay healthy. It’s the same with Prozac. It’s worthless for those who don’t need it, But for those who do, it is invaluable.

      Thanks so much for your perspective on the issue.

      Darin

    • Marissa Miller

      Modern medicine has come a long way and I am thankful for having things like this make me feel a little more zen. Couldn’t ask for anything else.

  • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

    Henry,

    Thank you for having the courage to tell your story in public and write about it.

    I attack religion, perhaps, too much in my article. I am sure there are a lot of heroes out there who are like your minister. It seems that he is an exception, at least in my experience. I am so happy you found him though.

    Part of it was the religion I received counsel from, which has a particularly bad attitude about mental illness. I grew up in the LDS Church, and they were very conservative towards mental illness. They are improving now, but still have problems.

    Thank you for your rich perspective on the topic, Henry.

    Darin

    • http://www.henrybuell.com/ Henry Buell

      Thanks to you as well – and it’s a shame some of the withering criticisms you’ve received from a few for your efforts. Few people close to the issue really understand just how little we know about the science that goes into these medicines, or just how difficult life can be for those who have to deal with depression.

      Many of those same people wouldn’t expect prayer to fix a compound fracture, but because you’ve got no bones sticking out, you’re just told to get over it. That isn’t at all to invalidate prayer or faith, or to say that they don’t have their place. Rather, it’s to say that they do have their place, as support – rather than a cure for something that just doesn’t cure itself.

      Good luck, and keep writing. To be sure you’re helping someone somewhere who hasn’t commented for fear of being blasted for their views. You have my respect for airing your story and taking the heat, without returning insults. Good on you.

      • http://www.zipminis.com/ Darin L. Hammond

        Well said, friend, and thank you for your support. The debate continues below…

        • http://www.henrybuell.com/ Henry Buell

          A favorite of mine. So many relevant elements I could quote most of them in other comments you’ve received. :)

          Interesting history behind it as well. Much to be learned between the lines and in the associated history. Funny, as well, some of the hidden meanings in famous historical paintings (the Sistine Chapel being one):

          Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
          The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.

          A Hymn
          By Gilbert K. Chesterton
          (English essayist and poet, 1874–1936)

          O GOD of earth and altar
          Bow down and hear our cry,
          Our earthly rulers falter,
          Our people drift and die;
          The walls of gold entomb us,
          The swords of scorn divide,
          Take not Thy thunder from us,
          But take away our pride.

          From all that terror teaches,
          From lies of tongue and pen,
          From all the easy speeches
          That comfort cruel men,
          From sale and profanation
          Of honor and the sword,
          From sleep and from damnation,
          Deliver us, good Lord.

          Tie in a living tether
          The priest and prince and thrall,
          Bind all our lives together,
          Smite us and save us all;
          In ire and exultation
          Aflame with faith, and free,
          Lift up a living nation,
          A single sword to Thee.

  • bliffle

    The stakes are so high, life vs. death, that it’s a big mistake to disallow anything that might work: pills, diets, exercise regimen, religion, philosophy, etc. Even forced confinement in a sanitarium, like by brother-in-law who is now able to function in society. Anything that can slow or prevent the onslaught of suicide.

    The victims of depression do not see it, but there IS reason to live. Nevertheless, they must first answer Albert Camuses great question: “the first and most important question in philosophy is whether or not to commit suicide.”

  • Miranda

    Regardless of the type of medicine you use, it’s important to have support. Without a support system, you have nothing. Sad but true. Very true.

  • Wolfgang Heuer

    Depression is a very typical symptom of the causing disease: lack of life energy / power of love (of the higher consciousness), due to the typical alienation of civilized people to the “higher / true self”.

    Lack of life energy / love is a main aspect of the “Collective Neurosis” of the civilized society. That’s why I call it the “Collective Civilization Neurosis” (CCN).

    CCN is the cause of

    – all mental illness / disorders and most other disorders / diseases;
    – all problems of human relations and education
    and
    – the repeatedly outbreaking “Collective Psychosis” (war and similar).

    CCN is basically healable by change to the higher consciousness level (incl. overcoming fear) and basical cleaning of (sub-)consciousness and then keeping clean for the rest of life.

    • Victor

      What planet are you from? “Collective Civilization Neurosis”? That’s creative :-)

  • William Scott

    Dear Mr. Hammond,

    Thanks for your article. I would have responded sooner, but it took me a while before I learned of it. Nonetheless, thank you for writing and pointing out that I had failed to clearly relate the basis for my spiritual treatment and improvement.

    I wrote that I turned to divine help to overcome my depression, but there are many ideas regarding the divine. To me, God is not the source of sickness or suffering, “the giver and taker of depression” as you stated. This is a key difference.

    I believe God wants only the best for each of us. This is not a God who wants anyone to feel guilty, depressed or unloved. My freedom from depression came from gaining a better understanding of this truth through my practice of Christian Science. This is not “mythology and spiritualism” or the urging of anyone to “buck up, and snap out of it.” It is a new/old way of viewing ourselves and our relationship to God. I think of it as primitive Christianity.

    I regret if my article seemed insensitive or engendered feelings of guilt. My motive was to help those suffering from depression by offering how I recovered from the problem, not to cause more hurt. Your comments were helpful and I’m grateful that you took the time to share your concerns.

    If you’re interested in trying a new approach, there are Christian Science practitioners throughout the world who devote themselves full-time to healing those who call upon them for help. A list of practitioners and their contact information can be found at christianscience.com.

    Thank you again for initiating this dialogue.
    With kind regards,

    Bill Scott

  • Jon Sobel

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