90. Antidepressants are having a midlife crisis.
Prozac and I are the same age. Have we both passed our peak?
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Today I made an interesting discovery: Prozac and I are the same age.
Introduced in 1986, approved by the FDA in 1987, and released to the public in 1988, Prozac found its legs at the same time I was learning to walk. After growing steadily in the 90s, an early clinical trial of the affects of Prozac in adolescents was posted on July 2, 2001—the day before my father died. Prozac and I were both fifteen years old, a formative time for humans and, apparently, for drugs looking to break into the minor market.
Though the FDA did not approve the use of any antidepressants in children until 2004, when Prozac received the honor and I graduated high school, these drugs were still given to minors thanks to off-label prescribing. I ended up on Effexor XR and Wellbutrin XL after my father’s death even though both drugs are “not approved for use in pediatric patients” and Wellbutrin, specifically, “has not been studied in children under the age of 18 and is not approved for use in children and teenagers.” Go figure. Sounds like some good old fashioned teenage experimentation.
The mid-2000s through 2010s were a heyday for antidepressants, growing to a $13.69 billion dollar industry by 2018. I can’t say my own bank account grew to that extent during those years, but by the time Prozac and I turned 32, much of what made us both who we were was baked into into our sense of self. Though I’d just begun to recover from a year of severe antidepressant withdrawal, I was still under the impression that my experience was rare. Prozac—and its SSRI and SNRI siblings—was commonplace in the general public. Celebrities who admitted they were on antidepressants were praised for de-stigmatizing mental health struggles, almost no research existed on antidepressant withdrawal, and it seemed unlikely that these drugs would fall out of favor.
And then, in 2018, the New York Times dropped a bombshell: “Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit.”
The flurry of uproar caused the Times to invite readers to fill out a survey about their antidepressant use. Of the 8,800 responses, mere dozens wrote in to say that the drugs were lifesaving while the rest focused on side effects, withdrawal, and the uncertainty of long-term use.
Like an early-30s divorce instigated by what was thought to be a single affair, by 2019, scandal emerged and more articles about getting off antidepressants appeared. In the New York Times: “How to Get off Antidepressants? Very Slowly, Doctors Say.” The New Yorker: “The Challenge of Going off Psychiatric Drugs.” The Wall Street Journal: “New Concerns Emerge about Long Term Antidepressant Use.”
In May of 2019, a group of leading UK, European, and North and South American researchers called for an urgent update of antidepressant withdrawal protocol. The researchers found that the negative effects of stopping antidepressants had been grossly underestimated, disputing the common assumption that antidepressant withdrawal symptoms were mild and short-lived. Instead, the influential body said that the potential harms of withdrawal are so severe that all patients must be warned of the probable side effects, including suicidal ideation, agitation, mania, hallucinations, and akathisia (uncontrollable restlessness) before they’re prescribed.
Still, years of good standing in the public’s eye allowed antidepressants to continue on, largely unscathed. Any early signs of trouble were ignored when the pandemic hit, leading to a $26.25 billion dollar market in 2020. My book on antidepressant withdrawal, which I knew had an audience thanks to the media coverage in 2019, seemed like it was dead in the water. Antidepressants, I figured, would go on living in a Golden Age.
But a predictable thing happens to people—especially women—in their mid-thirties. The luster of adulthood loses its shine. Wrinkles set in. Menopause looms as first marriages end. Nagging health issues turn into time-consuming problems.
Or, as Gwenyth Paltro put it, “What happens to your identity as a woman if you’re not fuckable and beautiful?”
At 36, I am not thrilled about facing the answer to this question. But it is made slightly more palatable by the twisted notion that this quandary is being forced on Prozac and its pharmaceutical counterparts as well. And that my work is a part of it.
In the past three months, I’ve personally published articles on antidepressant withdrawal in three major outlets: The New York Post, Insider, and The Washington Examiner. My drops in the bucket are part of a larger narrative that includes: The Nation: “Breaking Off My Chemical Romance.” Newsweek: “Antidepressants Work Better Than Sugar Pills Only 15 Percent of the Time.” BBC: “Did we all believe a myth about depression?”
Just last week, The Economist—a notoriously balanced publication that you’d think wouldn’t get involved in such a hot topic—published the article, “Most people on antidepressants don’t need them: Time to wean them off.”
If all goes as statistically expected, I can expect to live another fifty years. I will, objectively, become less attractive in our youth-obsessed society. The cells in my body will mutate and/or fail to regenerate. I and the other millennials will become a “burden” or, if the way we speak about at Boomers is any indication, the sole reason why the country fell apart in the first place. Eventually, I’ll die and be replaced by new generations who hopefully manage to find harmony without causing unnecessary destruction.
I can only hope my parallel path with antidepressants grants them the same fate.
📺 I doubled down with Sacramento morning show host Deirdre Fitzpatrick and appeared on KRCA’s morning news and on her podcast, Dying To Ask. Deirdre and I hit it off right away, to the point where I’m sad we don’t live in the same city because we would be fast friends. We talk as much “Chopped” as we do MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, so if you want more of me and the world of food, this is your episode.
🎙 Local news has been my jam for much of the MCSE promo. There’s something about speaking to an engaged, focused community that feels more honest than national news. This radio feature from KIOW 107.9 in Northern Iowa, is a great example.
Yearbook by Seth Rogan. I’ve been down with a neck injury for the past few days, which means I’ve spent a lot of time on my back, staring at the ceiling. The audiobook version of Rogan’s memoir in essays, narrated by Seth, has provided some much needed distraction and laughs. Interestingly, he mentions that he was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, but that his parents chose to control it through diet instead of medication.