Magazine article Insight on the News

Medicines for the Mind

Magazine article Insight on the News

Medicines for the Mind

Article excerpt

After a breakup with a girlfriend, Patrick, a 36-year-old Los Angeles man, told his primary-care physician he was feeling a little down. The physician wrote him a prescription for Wellbutrin, a selective serotonin-reuptake-inhibitor antidepressant, one of many drugs known as SSRIs. Almost immediately, Patrick began to suffer side effects. He became nauseated and dizzy and was "flying higher than a kite." He went to a psychiatrist, who tried a variety of other SSRIs, which only worsened his physical discomfort and his lack of emotion and sex drive. "I believe a little therapy and talking would have helped me," he says. "This opened up a whole can of worms and created more problems for me."

Though advocates have credited SSRIs with correcting the chemical imbalances that cause depression, a vocal group of mental-health professionals and patients are opposed to the drugs and the easy way they are prescribed. Critics say patients are not warned adequately of serious side effects, especially debilitating ones that can occur when a patient discontinues the medication. They say patients who stay on the drugs for longer than a year or two are facing unknown risks.

Drug manufacturers, physicians and millions of Americans who have used SSRIs counter that the benefits of the drugs far outweigh the side effects which, for most patients, are not troublesome. Thus far, extensive testing has not shown use of SSRIs to be linked to violent or suicidal behavior or proved it to be a long-term health risk.

In simple terms, SSRIs increase the supply of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is critical to mood regulation. They are effective for a number of afflictions from long- or short-term depression to anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders and panic disorder.

"SSRIs are like broad-spectrum psychiatric antibiotics," says Brian Doyle, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. …

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