Pills cannot cure the human condition

There’s an interesting article in the Telegraph today by Rowan Pelling, reflecting on the medicalisation of our Society. I firmly believe that SSRIs have massively over-prescribed (due to the aggressive marketing techniques of the drug companies). I’m sure some SSRIs have their uses, but they should only ever be prescribed in strictly controlled conditions. Rowan’s article begins:

About 13 years ago a friend of mine waved a pill at me and said: “You should try some of this – it’s amazing stuff!” It took me a few seconds to realise he wasn’t talking about ecstasy, but Prozac. Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, Prozac Nation, had just been published and all the hippest melancholics were racing to get their mitts on SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), which were billed as mood-enhancing wonder drugs by comparison with the old chemical coshes. With their natty brand names, such as Prozac and Seroxat, and media endorsement, SSRIs rapidly became socially acceptable – even the stuff of dinner-party conversation – in a way that electro-convulsive therapy and lithium had never been.

Cut to 2006: last year doctors wrote a record 31 million prescriptions for anti-depressant drugs, 16.2 million of which were for SSRIs. Alarmingly, nobody knows the exact number of people taking anti-depressants at any given time. But judging from the prescription figures, it seems reasonable to assume that several million Britons are living in a chemically controlled stupor. While I fully acknowledge how miraculous modern drugs can be for those who are suffering from such serious disorders as manic depression, a huge proportion of the nation now appears to be being anaesthetised against routine sorrow and pain.

I have a friend who has been on SSRIs for more than two years, since he split up with his girlfriend and lost his job. Nobody who knows him can help but notice that his witty, wise edges have been blunted. When he returned to his GP and said that every time he tried to come off the drug he burst into tears, she swiftly recommended a fresh course of pills.

And that’s another thing – some GPs really have to do much more to get up to speed with the problems that the drugs they prescribe can cause to some patients. It’s simply not enough to rely on what drug reps tell them about their company’s products.


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