It’s Life, Not Depression
Julian Whitaker, MD
Sharon’s husband was diagnosed with cancer, and they were looking at months of chemo and radiation. She was worried, had trouble sleeping, and found it hard to stay as positive and upbeat as she wanted to be for her husband. When she mentioned this to her doctor, he prescribed an antidepressant.
Laura was exhausted after the birth of her second child. Unlike her first baby, this one was fussy and rarely slept more than two hours at a stretch. Laura was tired, occasionally tearful, and, on bad days, questioned her ability to cope. She talked to her doctor, and she was prescribed an antidepressant.
Elizabeth, a bright and outgoing college student, would often wake up during the night worrying about one thing or another. One night, she awoke in a full-blown panic attack, her heart pounding so hard that she thought she was having a heart attack. She visited the campus infirmary the next day and was given a prescription for an antidepressant.
Thirteen-year-old Matt had just changed schools and was having a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings. His parents took him to see a psychiatrist, who—you guessed it—gave him an antidepressant.
No doubt about it, Sharon, Laura, Elizabeth, and Matt were going through some tough times. But we all go through rough patches—it’s part of being human. So how in the world did we arrive at such a place where normal emotions and reactions to life’s events warrant treatment with drugs?
Let Them Eat Prozac
According to David Healy, MD, professor at Wales’ Cardiff University and author of scores of scientific studies, we can blame it on the drug companies. Dr. Healy is a conventional psychiatrist, but his well-documented and vocal criticisms about the safety and overuse of Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants set him apart from his colleagues.
In his book Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression, Dr. Healy describes Prozac as a drug in search of a disease. The first SSRI, it hit the market in 1988 and, thanks to Eli Lilly’s aggressive marketing campaign, sales of antidepressants quadrupled in just two years. As Prozac’s popularity soared, it was joined by Paxil, Zoloft, Luvox, and other SSRIs.
Then Pandora’s Box of direct-to-consumer advertising opened. Before long, drug company propaganda had people believing that unhappiness, anxiety, shyness, stress, obsessive thoughts, PMS, “baby blues,” and other normal emotional reactions are diseases that can, and should, be treated with a pill. Patients started asking their doctors for prescriptions, and sales went through the roof.
Depression took on a whole new meaning. No longer was it limited to major depression, a clinical diagnosis marked by extreme emotional pain and inability to function. Mild-to-moderate depression has become a catchall diagnosis that is slapped on one in four Americans at some point in their lives.
Inventing Illness, Selling Drugs
Today, 4 percent of men and 10 percent of women in this country are taking antidepressants. The bulk of the prescriptions for these meds are written by primary care physicians, not psychiatrists, and most of these “depressed” patients receive no other treatment or follow-up. In fact, the drugs seem to be handed out indiscriminately. After NSAIDs, antidepressants are the most often-prescribed drugs on the market!
Dr. Healy describes this mess as “wholesale creation of depression on so extraordinary and unwarranted a scale as to raise grave questions about whether pharmaceutical and other health care companies are more wedded to making profits from health than contributing to it.”
If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve heard me harping on this concept of “inventing illness” time and again. Most of the ballyhoo about high cholesterol, ADHD, fibromyalgia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, even high blood sugar and blood pressure is fueled by market-driven campaigns designed to do one thing: sell more drugs.
But the antidepressant story is the worst of them all. As I will show you, these drugs do not work,they have the potential of inflicting tremendous harm—and, worst of all, the drug companies know this and have covered it up for decades!
Antidepressants Don’t Work…
Earlier this year, British researchers evaluated the published and unpublished pre-approval clinical trials of the SSRI drugs that compared them with placebos. They combined the results in a meta-analysis and came up with some disturbing findings. SSRI antidepressants work no better than placebo, and their benefits do not meet the criteria for clinical significance.
For patients with moderate depression, SSRIs were a complete bust. The differences in improvement between people with severe depression taking a drug and those on placebo were small and clinically insignificant. The sole group in which the drugs outperformed the placebo consisted of the most severely depressed patients, but the researchers concluded that that this was probably due to “decreased responsiveness to placebo… rather than to increased responsiveness to medication.” (The placebo response in these studies was very high—an average of 80 percent of study participants felt better taking sugar pills.)
…And They Kill People
In addition to being ineffective, SSRIs are very, very dangerous. These drugs cause sexual dysfunction, weight gain, emotional apathy, headaches, insomnia, and gastrointestinal (GI) upset, and they have been linked with GI and uterine bleeding. But their most alarming side effect is an increased risk of suicide, hostility, agitation (akathesia), and violent behavior.
Thousands of suicides, senseless murders, and other random acts of violence have been committed by people who were taking SSRIs. Michael McDermott went to work with an AK-47-type rifle, a shotgun, and a semiautomatic pistol and killed seven of his coworkers. Kip Kinkel murdered his parents then went to school where he killed two and wounded 22 of his fellow students. Kristine Cushing she took a .38-caliber pistol and shot and killed her two young daughters while they were sleep, then shot and wounded herself. Seung-Hui Cho went on a murderous rampage that resulted in 33 deaths and dozens of injuries.
Dr. Healy estimates that SSRIs are responsible for one death for every day that Prozac has been on the market—more than 7,500. At greatest risk are our children. The instigators of virtually all of the tragic school murder/suicides were taking an antidepressant or other psychotropic drugs. The same goes for more personal family tragedies such as uncharacteristic suicides, self-harm, and violent behaviors that rip families apart.
Last year, I met Mathy Downing, the mother of Candace Downing, a beautiful, exuberant 12-year-old honor student who was put on Zoloft for “generalized anxiety disorder.” A few months later, Mathy found her daughter hanging from the valance above her bed. Just an hour before, she’d been watching Animal Planet with her father.
Authorities in Great Britain came out against the use of antidepressants in young people. The FDA, on the other hand, decided to require a black box warning label stating that that these drugs increase risk of suicidal behavior in children, adolescents, and young adults. Sales fell off a little but remain strong. This is yet another example of the failure of the FDA, blinded by their incestuous relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, to protect the public.
You’re probably wondering how in the world such awful drugs generate $16.9 billion annually in global sales? I’ll tell you. It’s because the companies that push these pills have made a concerted and successful effort to deceive and outright lie to physicians and patients.
A 2008 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine examined the results of 74 drug company-sponsored clinical trials on antidepressants. It turns out that of the 38 studies with positive outcomes, 37 were published. However, 33 of the 36 studies with negative outcomes were either not published or they were reported in a way that “conveyed a positive outcome.”
The drug companies also knew about SSRI’s deadly side effects—and actively covered them up. A 1988 Eli Lilly internal document which surfaced during a trial in 2005 revealed that the company was aware that Prozac conferred a 12-fold greater risk of suicide attempts than other antidepressants. The document also stated that the drug was associated with hostile behavior and that it more than doubled the risk of psychotic depression. What did they do with this knowledge? Nothing.
In an editorial in the September 3, 2008, issue of JAMA, Marcia Angell, MD, had this to say about pharmaceutical company-sponsored research: “Physicians can no longer rely on the medical literature for valid and reliable information. This is the conclusion I reluctantly reached toward the end of my two decades as an editor ofThe New England Journal of Medicine, and it has been reinforced in subsequent years. Clinicians just do not know anymore how safe and effective prescription drugs really are, but these products are probably nowhere near as good as the published literature indicates.”
Life Isn’t Always Easy
Folks, drugs aren’t the answer. Most of the people treated with antidepressants are simply dealing with emotional upheavals in their lives, such as divorces, layoffs, and other losses. It’s normal to be “sad and gloomy; dejected; downcast” (the definition of depressed). But it isn’t clinical depression (defined as “so severe as to be considered abnormal, either because of no obvious environmental causes, or because the reaction to unfortunate life circumstances is more intense or prolonged than would generally be expected”).
Life isn’t always pretty. Puberty is tough. Our hearts get broken. Marriage isn’t all smooth sailing. Divorce happens. Teenagers drive you crazy. Work isn’t necessarily fun. Financial difficulties crop up. People get sick. Loved ones die. But the reality is we have to use whatever tools we have to pull ourselves together and work through it.
Faith, religion, meditation, friends, family, and counseling can help you weather grief, worry, change, and other aspects of the human condition. Regular exercise is an excellent mood lifter, and a good diet containing minimal amounts starches and sugar prevents blood sugar drops that can affect mood. Correcting hormone imbalances, particularly thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormones, also makes a big difference.
So does a good nutritional supplement program. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies are associated with depression, so take six to eight fish oil capsules daily. SAMe (200-400 mg) and St. John’s wort (900 mg) are proven mood enhancers, and vitamin B12 (1,000 mgc), magnesium (500-1,000 mg), and zinc (30-50 mg) are also helpful.
I want to close with an update on the people I told you about in the opening of this story.
Sharon, who started taking Luvox after her husband got sick, is still taking it nine years later. It’s not that the drug makes her feel all that great, and granted, she’s gained a lot of weight and has zero libido, which are common side effects of these drugs. But she’s afraid she might feel worse if she stops it.
Laura, the young mother with the fussy baby, decided not to fill her prescription. Within a few weeks, the baby started sleeping six hours a night, and she was able to get more rest. Today, she feels great.
Elizabeth stayed on Paxil for five years—a time of her life, she now says, that she went through “like a zombie.” After learning about the downside of this drug, she started taking multivitamins, fish oil, and other supplements while slowly weaning herself off the drug. She’s recently married and couldn’t be happier.
And 13-year-old Matt? He hung himself in his closet one week after starting on Paxil.
- Angell, M. Industry-sponsored clinical research: a broken system. JAMA. 2008 Sept; 300: 1069-1071.
- Barber, C. The medicated Americans: antidepressant prescriptions on the rise. 2008 Feb 27. Scientific American Mind.
- Block, MA. Just Because You’re Depressed Doesn’t Mean You Have Depression.
- Healy, D. Let Them Eat Prozac. The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression. New York University Press, New York NY. 2004.
- Kirsch, I et al. Initial severity and antidepressant benefits: a meta-analysis of data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. PLoS Medicine. 2008; 5(2, e45) doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050045.
- Turner, EH et al. Selective publication of antidepressant trials and its influence on apparent efficacy. New Engl J Med. 2008 Jan 17.358 (3):252-260.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2008. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.