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Essay/Term paper: Prozac: mania

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Prozac: Mania

"Yeah, I'm on Prozac," I hear quite often, said as if the speaker had
just received a new Porsche. I often do catch myself responding with, "I'm on
Zoloft isn't modern medicine great?" In a way, this exchange is a way of
bonding. In another, more twisted way, it is a way of receiving a stamp of
approval from my peers, for antidepressants have become extremely widespread and
widely accepted. "Prozac...has entered pop culture...becoming the stuff of
cartoons and stand-up comedy routines" ‹and, of course, really bad jokes by
people who do not take the drug. (Chisholm and Nichols 36).
These days, being prescribed an antidepressant carries less stigma than
in the past. "Prozac has attained the familiarity of Kleenex and the social
status of spring water" (Cowley 41). Gone are the days when the label "loony"
is slapped upon a person taking these drugs. Antidepressants have become almost
as commonplace as Tylenol. Prozac is being prescribed for much more than
clinical depression. Some of the other illnesses that are treatable by Prozac
include bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and dysthymia, which is chronic
low-grade depression. In some cases, it is even prescribed for anxiety or low
self-esteem (Chisholm and Nichols 38).
Part of the popularity of Prozac stems from declining health care. "As
medical plans cut back on coverage for psychotherapy, says [Dr. Robert] Birnbaum
of Boston's Beth Israel, psychiatrists feel pressure simply to Œmedicate and
then monitor side effects'" (Cowley 42). General practitioners, however, write
the majority of Prozac prescriptions. Both of these scenarios raise concerns,
as some psychiatrists state that it can be dangerous for antidepressants to be
used without concurrent psychotherapy sessions (Chisholm and Nichols 38). When
I discontinued my therapy sessions after two years, yet still continued to take
my antidepressants, I felt as if something was missing from my life. Therapy
has been a very important part of my treatment, and I would not have recovered
as well if I had not attended regular psychotherapy sessions.
With the common use of Prozac and other antidepressants, another
consideration arises: are these drugs becoming a substitute for really coping
with problems? Prozac and the related antidepressants, such as Paxil and Zoloft,
are known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They prevent
brain cells from re-absorbing used serotonin, which can elevate the moods and
thoughts of people suffering from depression (37). But "no disease can be
blamed solely on a serotonin imbalance" (Watson 86). External factors and
genetics often affect depression. As a two-year recipient of Zoloft, I
discovered that, during the course of my treatment, my interludes of depression
would return at stressful times, despite the medication. Mental illness also
runs in my family. On my father's side of the family, my great-grandmother
suffered from dementia, and on the maternal branch of the family tree, my mother
shows signs of dysthymia.
This, of course, does not mean that clinical depression is not caused by
a serotonin imbalance. The truth is, researchers are still looking for the
causes of emotional illnesses in order to design more specific solutions (86).
In the meantime, many people are receiving Prozac and related
medications for trivial personality disorders, and a stigma remains firmly
attached to people with genuine mental illness. "Mental illness is still often
thought of as something you or your parents did wrong," which is another reason
why many patients are simply taking the medication instead of also seeing a
therapist (Marrou). I will readily admit that I am on Zoloft, but I usually
keep my "shrink" appointments a secret from all but my closest friends.
Of course, the pop culture references only serve to heighten the overall
contempt toward younger people on antidepressants, and the glamour of taking
them. In the recent Kids in the Hall movie, "we [were] offered a wacky
dystopian vision of a world Prozaced out of its wits" (Ansen). This refers to
the wide usage of antidepressants to treat trivial disorders. "Happy pills for
every occasion" ‹doctors are still looking for the perfect way to treat minor
personality disorders (Chisholm and Nichols 40). It seems that taking Prozac is
"cool," especially among young people, who can prove that they, too, are angst-
ridden and rich enough to take these seemingly designer drugs.
Yet, where would Sylvia Plath be if she had taken an antidepressant?
True, she would be alive, but her work would not have been so introspective or
moving. She would also have been easily forgettable. Prozac is said to reduce
insight and emotions (Cowley 42). As a recipient of Zoloft, I can attest to
that statement. My moods have been dulled. I once possessed a great deal of
emotions, and now only feel two: "bummed out" (slightly depressed and highly
irritable) and hyperactive. I have also noticed that my poetry is not as moving
as it was when I was medication-free.
Lately, I have thought of discontinuing my medication. The social
stigma does irritate me; after the first five Prozac jokes, I stopped laughing.
That is not my reason for desiring an end to the medication, however. I want to
quit because I do not feel like, well, me. I do not cry or laugh normally; it
all seems as if I am watching someone else cry or laugh for me.
Technically, I am not even clinically depressed. I have been diagnosed
with dysthymia, a mild yet chronic form of depression, which I know was caused
by extreme stress several years ago. I continue to experience a great deal of
stress in my life, but I would like to learn how to cope with it instead of
merely popping a little yellow pill. What happens if I lose my health
insurance? I would not be able to afford medication, and would have to learn
anyway. As it is, my most recent therapist decided that I no longer need
psychotherapy, so why am I still taking this medication? It has become a crutch
for me. I agree with Kurt Cobain when he sings, "I'm so happy/ cause today I've
found my friends/ in my head." My own emotions are always better than drug-
induced feelings.
Even the lyrics by Cobain prove just how mainstream antidepressants have
become, even though Cobain sings about Lithium, which is used to treat manic-
depressive patients. An entire computer bulletin board is devoted to Prozac
alone, and endless resources exist on the World Wide Web (Cowley 41). As we
joke about Prozac and recommend it to our friends, though, it is becoming too
widespread to be ignored.
In ten years, we might all be taking some form of medication to
stabilize our moods and "fine-tune the behavior of a given person. We may be
able to almost modulate personality" (Chisholm and Nichols 40). There is
something truly creepy about an entire nation walking around with what my friend
Joy calls "perma-smiles," the alleged happiness found in antidepressants. Is it
even ethical to create a society where nobody feels their own emotions? "The
ultimate question, assuming that the new antidepressants can safely banish
unpleasant feelings, is whether we really want to be rid of them" (Cowley 42).
And do we all want to be happy all the time? If you cease to feel pain, then
your happiness seems dulled.
More alarming is the amount of people I know that have been on some
antidepressant or another by the age of eighteen. It seems that normal teenage
mood swings are being diagnosed as depression, and medication is readily
prescribed. While some experts say that "treatable psychiatric problems are far
more common than most people realize," why has medication become so popular as a
treatment? (42). Another friend of mine likes to cling to the "conspiracy"
theory: the medication is being used to lull us into complacency. I sometimes
wonder about this myself. Annually, Prozac's worldwide sales reach nearly $1.2
billion (41). Millions of people take some form of an antidepressant (Marrou).
It is sick, in a way.
Still, doctors and patients alike have nothing but praise for these
drugs that make treating a debilitating illness so much easier (Chisholm and
Nichols 36). The side effects are fewer than the older antidepressants, and
they do not last that long. I experienced only three days of nausea,
gastrointestinal problems, and a dry mouth when I first started taking Zoloft.
Now I experience no side effects. The absence of these side effects seems to
contribute to the popularity of the drugs. After all, who would want to take a
pill that makes them sick, especially if the person is only experiencing anxiety
or slight depression?
This all contributes to the entire culture behind Prozac and other
antidepressants. The culture that I have observed extends from successful
students to clove-smoking, sour-faced poets sitting in offbeat coffeehouses.
Antidepressants have become drugs for everyone, the "feel-good" drugs of the
nineties, it seems.
Yet the liberal usage of Prozac raises another, more important concern.
Prozac may have many unforeseen consequences, and is being compared to Valium,
which was on the market for ten years before doctors discovered just how
addictive it was in the mid-1970s. Some say that Prozac has become the Valium
of the nineties (38). Since its release in 1988 by Eli Lilly and Co. of
Indianapolis, it has been prescribed to numerous patients. But what side
effects and dangers will we discover in the future? Ostensibly, individuals
taking Prozac are guinea pigs.
The glamour of antidepressants fades when factors such as possible side
or after-effects, dulled emotions, and the necessity of therapy is taken into
consideration. However, the use of Prozac will continue just as strongly as
ever. Doctors will continue to medicate patients for as long as health plans
cut back psychotherapy benefits. The pop culture references will remain firmly
in place as more people begin to take Prozac, including the unfunny jokes. And
where will we be in ten years? Hopefully, we will not be diagnosed with cancer
or some other antidepressant-induced illness. For some reason, I doubt we will
be joking about that as liberally as we do our antidepressants.

Works Cited

Ansen, David. "Kids in the Hall Send Up Our Prozac Culture." Newsweek: America
Online (keyword: newsweek) 22 April 1996. Chisholm, Patricia and Nichols, Mark.
"Questioning Prozac." Maclean's 23 May 1994: 36-40. Cobain, Kurt. "Lithium."
Nevermind. Nirvana. Virgin Songs, Inc. and The David Geffen Company, Track 5,
1991. Cowley, Geoffrey. "The Culture of Prozac." Newsweek: America Online
(keyword: newsweek) 7 February 1994: 41-42. Marrou, Chris. "I hope that one day
mental illness will be as openly accepted as any physical disability."
Newsweek Online 24 June 1996. Watson, Traci. "Ode to a mellifluous
brain molecule." U.S. News & World Report 25 November 1996: 86.


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