What follows is an entry I posted to my Livejournal about my fears regarding SSRIs and my experiences with them in the past. I still feel strange and somehow wrong, a bit of a failure as a human being, for taking anti-depressants. But to be honest, I’d rather treat this condition and feel better than let it go untreated and suffer, and have my family suffer with me. There is no glory in suffering with an untreated mental illness, just as there is no glory in suffering through an untreated physical ailment.
Yesterday I was talking to my OB about my bad experiences with SSRIs as a teenager. I was prescribed Zoloft and then Paxil around age 12 or 13 for depression, back in the days when they assumed 12 was old enough for an adult dose and no further testing was needed to determine the effect on children and teens. The Paxil made me extremely hyperactive, and I had uncontrollable twitches and hallucinations. When I told the psychiatrist, she told me not to worry about it.
“Are you depressed? No? Then what’s the problem?” Then the dosages would get increased because clearly I was having problems that needed more medication to resolve.
Looking up those drugs now, out of curiosity, I found that there’s something called “Serotonin Syndrome/Toxicity,” and it appears that the signs are things like hallucinations, hyperactivity, and uncontrollable movements. The drug fact sheet on WedMD for both of those drugs says to get medical help immediately if you incur any of those symptoms.
“Serotonin is a chemical produced by the body that enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with one another. Too little serotonin in the brain is thought to play a role in depression. Too much, however, can lead to excessive nerve cell activity, causing a potentially deadly collection of symptoms known as serotonin syndrome or serotonin reuptake syndrome.” [Source]
It occurs to me that, had I not begged my mom to stop taking those drugs, I could have died. The side effects of SSRIs are magnified in teens and young adults — namely, anyone under the age of 25 — and upping my dose in response to such serious side effects was grossly negligent on the part of my psychiatrist. However, I was given those drugs in response to my complaints that I was having a horrible time in school (kids spit on me, called me names, threw food at me) and was severely depressed, on top of my natural inclination for heightened anxiety. In essence, it was the “shut your face and get back in line” prescription, much like Adderall and Ritalin are used for hyperactive kids.
We now know more about the effects these drugs have on kids and teens, more than we did when I took them, and yet we still don’t know their full impact. What’s the long-term impact of prescribing harsh psychiatric drugs to kids who aren’t necessarily mentally ill, but just have social problems (namely, they’re not social and the social world is going to remind them repeatedly how little they fit in with the rest of the world)? Do these kids grow up to have worse psychiatric problems as adults from the impact of those chemicals on their brains? Or is there no noticeable effect? I’ve long known that my brain chemistry was somewhat impaired, and judging from what both of my parents have told me about my family history, it seems there may be a genetic component to that. However, I frequently ask myself if perhaps things would have been different if, instead of treating social issues with psychiatric drugs, I’d instead been just sent to therapy. If perhaps my brain chemistry impairments were worsened by the drugs I took.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever know, but these are the things I ponder every time someone suggests I go back onto an anti-depressant.
Addendum: My OB prescribed me Zoloft and mentioned I could take half-doses to wean myself onto the drug. This is exactly how I’m feeling right now: