Loose Screws Mental Health News

Ebselen, an experimental bipolar disorder drug, has been found by British researchers to work like lithium but without lithium’s side effects. In mice. In testing, mice that were somehow made manic with “small doses of amphetamine” were placated with ebselen. Researchers are now moving on to testing on healthy human volunteers before studying those suffering with bipolar disorder.


A study, published in JAMA Neurology, discovered that retired NFL players were more likely to suffer from depression and brain impairment. The study comes on the heels of the suicides of Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, and Junior Seau. Researchers suspect a link between “hard hits to the head and depression.” These problems have also been noted in NHL players and combat soldiers who have suffered a brain injury. Many of the retired NFL players developed a type of brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Duerson and Easterling were found to have CTE during autopsy. In related sports news, the UK’s Telegraph reports that depression is a problem for soccer players in England and Scotland.


According to Time magazine, ketamine—a drug that induces hallucinations and other trippy effects—may hold potential as an antidepressant.

And now scientists report on two formulations of drugs with ketamine’s benefits, but without its consciousness-altering risks, that could advance the drug even further toward a possible treatment for depression.

Ketamine is seen as a fast-acting antidepressant for those at high risk for suicide. GLYX-13, mentioned here previously, is a ketamine-like antidepressant currently in clinical trials. AstraZeneca has AZD6765, a “ketamine mimic” that does not appear to be as effective as actual ketamine.

New research has discovered that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of domestic violence. Even though the study evaluated men and women, the results for women were overwhelmingly striking.

It finds that women with symptoms of depression were 2.5 times more likely to have experienced domestic violence over their lifetimes than those in the general population, while those with anxiety disorders were more than 3.5 times more likely to have suffered domestic abuse. The extra risk grew to seven times more likely among those with post-traumatic stress disorder.


An analysis of more than 1 million Scandinavian women has shown that taking SSRIs during pregnancy may not increase the risk of stillbirth. This study could help revolutionize treating depression in pregnant women.

“From our study, we don’t find any reason to stop taking your medication, because untreated depression may be harmful for the pregnancy and the baby,” [Dr. Olof Stephansson, the lead author of the new report] told Reuters Health.


Finally, “gender identity disorder” has been removed from the DSM-V and has been replaced by “gender dysphoria,” a condition in which people are concerned about their gender identity. “Gender identity disorder” seemed to stigmatize gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals. The continuing inclusion of “gender dysphoria,” however, ensures that people suffering with gender identity disorder still have access to health care treatment. (In my opinion, the renaming of “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria” is really a politically correct change. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM back in 1973.)

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It’s Official: I’m on Abilify and Prozac

A cursory search on Google for Abilify + Prozac didn’t yield too many helpful results. I suppose it’s not a common drug combination. So far, I haven’t had any real side effects. I take Prozac in the morning and Abilify at night. I’ve also started taking my vitamins again after shirking them for quite a while: Fish Oil with Omega-3s, Iron (for slight anemia), Vitamin B-Complex with Vitamin C, and a women’s multivitamin.

I am a little nervous about taking an SSRI again because the last SSRI I was on (Effexor/venlafaxine) produced some nasty side effects (mania, night sweats, vivid dreams, brain shivers) along with the one I liked (significant weight loss). When I last blogged about Prozac, my only side effect was somnolence—a side effect I don’t appear to be experiencing this time around.

Are you on a drug combination? If so, what and is it working for you? If you used to be on a drug combination, what was it and did it help?

Lamictal and Abilify: Back on Medication

Images from rxlist.com & drugs.com

After 2 years of not being on medication, I am back to a daily regimen of lamotrigine (Lamictal) and aripiprazole (Abilify) with lorazepam (Ativan) as needed.

Many of you may know, or may not know, what I decided to taper off of medication so that I could get pregnant. Well, that hasn’t happened. And my thoughts got to a point where it became life and death again. I didn’t want to go back to the psych hospital so I asked my psychiatrist for help.

My psychiatrist (God bless him) is a very conservative psychiatrist. He was the one who helped me off of medication 2 years ago, and he’s the one titrating my dosages up now. Lamotrigine is for long-term maintenance of the bipolar disorder, aripiprazole is for short-term maintenance of bipolar disorder and SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and lorazepam assists with severe anxiety as needed. I started taking the medication four weeks ago, and I’m only on 50 mg of lamotrigine and 5 mg of Abilify. There will be no increase on Abilify and I titrate up on lamotrigine every 2 weeks. My next big jump is 100 mg.

My psychiatrist expects me to come off of aripiprazole within the next few months (hopefully by December). If not, I will have to get regular blood sugar and cholesterol tests performed. He will adjust all medications as necessary in the event that I am pregnant. He’s a great psychiatrist; he’s willing to work with me based on my situation rather than him throwing drugs at me. He allows me to have complete control over my treatment regimen, which is something I like and respect.

In the past, I may have come off as anti-medication, but really, I’m not. I advocate for use of medication in a necessary, responsible manner. In 2010, 253 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants.¹ (Keep in mind that the U.S. is estimated to have 307 million people in the country.² That’s about 82.4% of the population taking antidepressants.) This is not responsible; this is too much. In the comments, people have rightly corrected me in the assumption that 1 person can get multiple prescriptions in a year; I failed to remember that.

Let’s assume a person is on 1 antidepressant (the majority of people take 1). Beginning in January, that person gets 5 refills for 30 days. By May, the person will need another 5 refills. Then another prescription is dispensed in October. That’s 3 prescriptions per person. Of course, this can vary depending on how often the doctor will see a patient so let’s generalize and say 5 prescriptions per person per year. My calculations for prescriptions per American mean that nearly 20 percent (about 17%) of the population is on antidepressants. Sure, it’s not my original ridiculous number of 82.4%, but I still think this is pretty high. (By the way, feel free to correct my stats in the comments if necessary; I don’t claim to be a math wizard.)

While I am not on an antidepressant, I am one of the millions of Americans who is on medication for mental illness. For 2 years, honestly, I’d forgotten I had anything relating to mental illness. It was nice to wake up and be myself without thinking about me plus bipolar disorder. Every morning and every evening, it’s now me plus bipolar disorder plus SAD plus anxiety. These are all real symptoms that need to be managed. I don’t want to be dependent on this medication forever, but I may have to. If it helps me manage my suicidal thoughts and function with people in life, then it’s worth it.

Your turn: What do you think about taking psychotropic medication? Do the symptoms outweigh the risks for you? What’s been your experience in taking (or not taking) psych meds?

Notes:

1. Shirley S. Wang, “Antidepressants Given More Widely,” The Wall Street Journal. Published on August 4, 2011. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903885604576486294087849246.html. Accessed October 20, 2011.
2. Google Public Data Explorer. Population in the U.S. Last updated: July 28, 2011. Available at: http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=kf7tgg1uo9ude_&met_y=population&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=us+population. Accessed October 20, 2011.

Christopher Pittman seeks new trial

Christopher PittmanFrom Furious Seasons:

I simply don’t know what to make of the case of Christopher Pittman who was convicted of shooting his grandparents to death when he was 12-years-old–except that it argues for how risky it is to put young children on anti-depressants. Pittman, sentenced to 30 years in prison, is seeking a new trial and a hearing on that matter is underway in South Carolina.

You can read more about the Zoloft-rage/violence connection is relation to Pittman’s case.

Should psych drugs be avoided at ALL costs?

My brain isn’t functioning today quite honestly so my apologies if the following makes no sense whatsoever. It’s long and I ended up rambling.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether there are any benefits to using pharmaceutical drugs. I have blogger friends who are very much anti-pharmaceuticals anything, try to avoid drugs as much as possible but take them if necessary, or think pharmaceutical drugs are a Godsend.

I’m still trying to figure out where I stand.

Pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making money. It is not to their advantage to put out completely shoddy products that do not work. I’m sure many of them bury negative data and findings that do not shed a positive light on their drugs but if something works overall, they’ll put it out there. I don’t believe the doctors who are involved in these trials are all dirty, rotten sell-outs. Some of them are very well-meaning and honest who work to make these drugs as effective as possible. Call me naïve if you like but I just can’t bring myself to believe there are more greedy docs who skew results than there are those who are concerned with advancement.

I don’t think twice about popping Excedrin Migraine when I’ve got a painful, debilitating migraine; I have no problem taking naproxen (aka Aleve) when I’ve got menstrual cramps, and taking ibuprofen isn’t an issue if I have severe muscle pain. I don’t question the safety of these drugs. I’ve used them for so long, they’ve proven to be relatively safe for me (not everyone can tolerate those drugs) and efficacious. The safety risk of taking Excedrin Migraine sometimes outweighs the benefits of not taking it. (Note: I only speak of adults in terms of ingesting this kind of medication.I don’t believe developing bodies, such as youngsters, are able to handle medication that can significantly affect mood.)

When it comes to psych meds, I am not anti-medication. Psych meds should be taken on a case-by-case basis. There are some people who consider these meds to be a life-saver while others complain that it has made them miserable and worsened their lives. This is the gamble people take when choosing to ingest a psych med—most people don’t know that. Trouble is, most people don’t know when the stakes are high enough to take that risk.

I shouldn’t be in a position to judge anyone but when I hear people taking antidepressants based on circumstances—a job loss, failed relationship, loss of a life—I worry that it’s unnecessary. We are becoming a nation that is more reliant on “quick fixes” rather than developing coping mechanisms. It’s easier to pop a pill and dull your emotions than it is to face problems, tackle issues head on, and learn to work your way through it. Case in point: rising unemployment hasn’t slowed sales of antidepressants or sleeping pills.

  • I have an aunt who was a violent paranoid-schizophrenic. She was placed in a mental institution and drugged up the wazoo. Now, she’s basically existing; the lights are on but no one’s home. The drugs have killed her. She’s alive but not really.
  • My father was a non-violent paranoid-schizophrenic. It got to the point where we needed to medicate him to get him on track. The medication helped him to function “normally” but his thought processes and physical ability was significantly slowed. He once told me that he felt useless because my mother was busting her butt at work to pay for my college and he was basically an invalid because his mental illness had prevented him from being able to work. He died 4 months later. A few days after the funeral, my mom began to find his psych meds hidden all around the house. I often wonder if the drugs killed him.
  • Another aunt (this is all on the paternal side of the family) also became a paranoid-schizophrenic. She was a brilliant woman who was basically reduced to moving from place to place to the point where she eventually became homeless and could not hold down a job. She disappeared for a while but during one cold winter, was found and brought into a homeless shelter. She was placed on meds and her cognitive functions returned despite the fact that her speech was sometimes garbled. She traveled the world, went on cruises and various excursions. The change was remarkable. Psych meds improved her life and saved her—the benefits of the drugs outweighed the side effects.

As I withdraw from Lamictal, I am curious to see who I am without this drug. Will my creative juices flow freely once again or are they now somewhat hindered? Will my cognitive functioning correct itself or will I forever suffer from problems? Will my short-term memory loss issues smooth out or will I still suffer from intermittent forgetfulness? I have some side effects that may remain with me for a while or perhaps forever (though I hope not) but seeing others fully recover after taking drugs for 10 times longer than I have gives me hope.

I feel the majority of my progress has come from intensive counseling and being infused with the truths as laid out in the Bible. I’d say 90% of my progress has been due to counseling. I give the meds 10%. You can tell I don’t place much stock in them. But they’ve helped to cut down on the mixed episodes.

So far, I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts are behaviors that are out of the ordinary. (Thank GOD.) I’ve been dealing with a mild depression but that stems from basing my worth based off of my career rather than any biological imbalances. The last time I suffered a severe depression, I was on Lexapro (if that tells you anything).

I’ve gotten a lot of resistance and concern from family members who question my decision to come off of the medication. They’ve seen a miraculous change in me and attribute it to being on meds. Meds aren’t a cure-all. They don’t see the counseling and shifting of thought processes going on that has helped me to develop coping mechanisms. Meds may help people “cope” but they don’t develop the tools needed to cope.

I’ve decided that I’ll probably give that Christian psychiatrist a call. My counselor recommended him and she said that he’s very neutral on meds and doesn’t shove them on anyone. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if anyone would accept me as a patient only to lose me in the end—she insisted he wouldn’t mind. The intake cost is hefty but since I was able to temp a few days for my job this week—I’m not permanently returning, I can swing it.

Which brings me back to my position on psych meds: I said it earlier but I think it’s a case-by-case basis. In my personal life, I’ve seen the benefits outweigh the side effects and I’ve seen the side effects outweigh the benefits. And I’ve seen benefits (not necessarily beneficial) as a result of side effects. Psychiatry is the biggest medical guessing game of all medical specialties. There are no certainties, and there’s no one medication that works best for everyone. Pharmaceutical companies make it a point to put the disclaimer on the patient information sheet that they’re not exactly sure HOW these drugs work. All that stuff about serotonin, dopamine, and neurotransmitters is pure speculation when it comes to depression. You’ll have me convinced about chemical imbalances once I can get a MRI and blood test done. Until then, it’s all trial-and-error.

So if I do suffer from relapses while withdrawing from this medication and it gets to the point where I may need to be hospitalized, I’m not averse to remaining on the drug. Better to be alive and on a psych drug than dead because I was determined not to use it at risk to my safety. If I end up having to stay on the drug, the future of giving birth to children will seem a bit more uncertain.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Portland, Oregon has been recently declared the most depressed city in the country. BusinessWeek determined this based on “antidepressant sales, suicide rates, unemployment, divorce, and crappy weather.” Philly didn’t make the top 20 list. That’s because we’re too busy enjoying the highest suicide rate in the country.


smokingA great way to avoid depression, however, is to simply stop breathing. Yes, that’s right. Just stop breathing. A new study presented at an American Psychological Society meeting shows people who are consistently exposed to secondhand smoke are twice as likely to suffer from depression. So that’s my recommendation to you: STOP BREATHING. I guarantee you won’t be depressed after a while. (By the way, that’s a joke so you can go ahead and take a deep breath now.)


Apparently all this talk of an economic depression is causing people to be depressed enough to buy more antidepressants. I don’t get how it works but it seems as though antidepressant prescriptions (along with sleeping aid prescriptions) are rising alongside the unemployment rate in this country. Big Pharma isn’t filing for bankruptcy anytime soon. And if they do, it’s their own freakin’ fault.


In what appears to be a landmark ruling (correct me if I’m wrong), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that pharmaceutical companies are still liable for injuries cause by FDA-approved drugs and devices and juries can legitimately award damages. The buzzword I’ve learned for this case is preemption.

A woman who was injected with an antinausea drug (Phenergan, if you’re wondering) brought a damage suit against Wyeth after her arm had to be amputated. After a jury awarded her with $6.7 million, Wyeth took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, expecting a cool victory after the court sided with Medtronic in last year’s Riegel v. Medtronic case. Wyeth, the defendant in the case, hoped the Supreme Court would rule in their favor since the FDA had already evaluated their product for safety—a preemptive act. However, this time the court ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing the woman to keep her award money. The decision also sets a precedent for pharmaceutical consumers to sue pharmaceutical companies for injuries despite FDA approval—striking down preemption. For further information, check out Doug Bremner’s and Philip Dawdy’s blogs that have already covered this. In the meantime, I leave you with this:

Ronald Rogers, a spokesman for Merck, said, “We believe state courts should not be second-guessing the doctors and scientists at the F.D.A.”Merck was hit with several huge damage awards over its painkiller Vioxx before agreeing to a $4.85 billion settlement in 2007. Allowing juries to make determinations about drug risks, Mr. Rogers said, would cause “mass confusion.”

Hm. Make of that what you will.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

I could’ve been a statistic right here in this area.

suicides in PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia now boasts the sharpest increase in suicides in the country. Despite all the homicides in Philadelphia making the news, the 196 people who killed themselves in 2008 were quietly buried in the obit pages (if they made it there at all).

In light of this news, I’ve decided to place a suicide hotline web banner in the upper right-hand corner of my right sidebar. Susan of If You’re Going Through Hell Keep Going has one in her sidebar and I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’ve had a couple of people comment or send me emails about how they feel they’re on the brink of losing it so hopefully the banner — one of the first things to be seen on this page — will draw some attention and prompt someone to call for help. When I was a teen, I called 1.800.SUICIDE. I can’t remember what happened exactly but I called the hotline and someone talked me into why life was still worth living. People who are suicidal don’t really want to die; they want an escape from the pain they’re feeling and they feel the only way to alleviate that pain is through inflicting death upon themselves. I hope someone who is suicidal would be willing to pick up the phone and come to the same realization that I did at the time.


Speaking of suicide, researchers from the World Health Organization and the University of Verona, Italy have discovered that SSRIs (a class of antidepressants) may significantly reduce the risk for suicide in adults. SSRIs — which include such medications as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft — are not be confused with SNRIs such as Effexor, Pristiq, and Cymbalta. PsychCentral notes:

SSRIPrevious studies, including a 2007 study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), found the risk of suicide in adults was neutral, elevated in those under 25 and reduced in people older than 65. A subsequent black box warning was added to all antidepressants regarding increased risk of suicidal symptoms in people under 25 years of age.

Basically, this study just means antidepressants help those who are 25 years and older and hurt those 24 years and younger. I’m sure a new study will come out within the next year or so that contradicts this one. Especially since numerous previous studies on SSRIs found the risk of suicide to be neutral in ages 25-65.


Young adultAccording to the Boston Globe, a (really pathetic) new study shows that nearly half of young adults between the ages of 19 to 25 “meet the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder.”

Whether in college or not, almost half of this country’s 19-to-25-year-olds meet standard criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, although some of the disorders, such as phobias, are relatively mild, according to a government-funded survey of more than 5,000 young adults, published in December in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study, done at Columbia University and called the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions, found more alcohol use disorders among college students, while their noncollege peers were more likely to have a drug use disorder.

But, beyond that, misery is largely an equal-opportunity affliction: Across the social spectrum, young people in America are depressed. They’re anxious. They regularly break one another’s hearts. And, all too often, they don’t get the help they need as they face life’s questions…

According to the 2005-2007 American Community Survey, the population for adults ages 18-24 is gauged to be around 30 million. Therefore if we’re going to take the study at its word, let’s chop the number by half (even though the number is just under half). That will put us at about 15 million young adults. The NIMH, however, estimates 57.7 million adults in the U.S. “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.” If this is the case, those 15 million young adults make up nearly 26 percent of the NIMH’s “diagnosable mental disorder” statistic. The inclusion of alcohol and drug addictions might explain why this figure might be a little high.

Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) information

Antidepressant rankings: Zoloft and Lexapro considered best overall

A number of antidepressants were recently ranked in different surveys:

Zoloft and Lexapro came in first for a combination of effectiveness and fewer side effects, followed by Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Cymbalta, and Luvox among others.

The first was efficacy — or how likely patients were to experience the desired effects of the drug.

Efficacy:

1. Remeron (Mirtazapine)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
4. Zoloft (Sertraline)
5. Celexa (Citalopram)
6. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
7. Paxil (Paroxetine)
8. Savella (Milnacipran)
9. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

The second was acceptability — the likelihood that a patient would continue using a drug for the duration of the study (it is generally assumed that a high ratio of patients dropping out indicates the presence of undesirable side effects for a drug).

Acceptability:

1. Zoloft (Sertraline)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
4. Celexa (Citalopram)
5. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
6. Savella (Milnacipran)
7.
Remeron (Mirtazapine)
8. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
9. Paxil (Paroxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

antidepressantsMy experience with Lexapro was a disaster and I’ve written about Zoloft’s connection with irritability and rage. Paxil’s side effects are especially rough (see Bob Fiddaman’s Seroxat page) while Effexor’s withdrawal effects proved to be significantly challgenging. Although Prozac offset Effexor’s withdrawal symptoms, it causes severe somnolence that can impair cognitive functioning. And last but not least, Cymbalta contributed to the unfortunate death of Traci Johnson who had no history of depression.

These drugs may be effective for many people but it’s still a guessing game. Dr. Mark I. Levy, quoted in ABC News’s article on the rankings, mentioned that while psychiatrists may not have much use for the rankings, he sees them as beneficial for primary care physicians. And Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor at Duke University Medical Center, adds:

“I would be likely to start patients on either Zoloft [because it’s cheaper] or Lexapro … Unfortunately, that is almost none of my patients. By the time they get to me [a psychiatrist], the primary-care doctors have tried Zoloft and other antidepressants, so my patient are not the “new to medication” kind of patients,” he said.

I won’t rehash my thoughts on PCPs prescribing antidepressants and other psych meds. You can read about them here.

Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

But NC has its Christian critics.

Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrity Sensitivity: Joe Pantoliano & Blake Fielder-Civil

Actor Joe Pantoliano, best known for his roles in The Goonies and The Sopranos, has recently admitted to struggling with depression. He didn’t tell anyone up until 3 years ago. When a close friend committed suicide, the event prompted him to seek help. He has begun the site No Kidding, Me Too to help fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage others to get help.

Blake Fielder-CivilAlso in depression news, Amy Winehouse’s troubled husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, has been receiving counseling in prison due to worry that Winehouse is still abusing drugs.

“Blake is on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” a prison insider told The Sun. “He has stopped his mopping job, which may sound funny, but it gave him something to do. Instead he mopes around his cell.

Something tells me that Fielder-Civil is not taking drugs — antidepressants, of course — in prison.

Chemical imbalances do not exist; dying brain cells do

Researchers have never been fully confident in the chemical imbalance theory, yet the media continue to purport it as fact. Dr. John Grohol over at PsychCentral recently wrote:

We’ve all heard the theory — a chemical imbalance in your brain causes depression.

Although researchers have known for years this not to be the case, some drug companies continue to repeat this simplistic and misleading claim in their marketing and advertising materials. Why the FTC or some other federal agency doesn’t crack down on this intentional misleading information is beyond me. Most researchers now believe depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

How did we come to this conclusion? Through years of additional research. But now some are jumping on the next brain bandwagon of belief — that depression is caused by a problem in the brain neuronal network.

Grohol cites Jonah Lehrer's article in the Boston Globe in which he posits that researchers now think depression comes from "brain cells shrinking and dying." Lehrer writes:

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Pristiq's side effects: Too close to Premarin and Prempro for comfort?

Back in January 2007, I’d mentioned that Wyeth was not only seeking to market Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) for depression but also for the use of vasomotor symptoms in menopausal women.

I just learned that Wyeth produces two major menopause drugs, Premarin and Prempro, that allegedly has produced hormones causing cancer in more than 5,000 women. This added up to a loss of 40 million users and $1 billion annually.

With Effexor going generic in 2 years and the introduction of Pristiq to the market, Wyeth hopes to lure some of those customers back and net an annual $2 billion. However, serious questions linger about Pristiq’s side effects in menopausal women.

Why did two women in the study group taking Pristiq have heart attacks
and three need procedures to repair clogged arteries compared with none
taking placebo? How can Wyeth assure long term safety when 604 of the
2,158 test subjects took Pristiq for only six months and 318 for a year
or more? And what about serious liver complications seen in the studies?

Martha Rosenberg, reporting on Pristiq’s use as a menopausal drug, culled comments from CafePharma’s message boards and found one thread rife with mixed comments on the new drug. From an Anonymous commenter:

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2-Year Anniversary: The Long and Winding Road

I’m aware that my blog has taken a significantly dark turn.  This may alienate some of my readers who seek happier, brighter topics. I don’t think my posts have been negative; on the contrary, I think they’ve been positive. Positive and educational.

I’ve been exploring the topic of suicide recently because it’s a subject that’s quite near and dear to me, now more than ever before.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lexapro maintains status as first-line antidepressant therapy

Lexapro vs. Pristiq According to a Decision Resources (DR) press release, Lexapro (escitalopram), a SSRI, “retains leadership among first-line therapies in the treatment of major depression” despite the fact that physicians have increasingly moved toward the use of SNRIs, eg, Effexor (venlafaxine). However, the reason why SSRIs still retain their first-line status is due to

  • cost
  • efficacy
  • familiarity

SSRIs have been out on the market for much longer than SNRIs so it’s what physicians are more comfortable with. As far as I know, there currently aren’t any generic SNRIs in the U.S.

As a result, SNRIs are likely pricier.

DR’s survey of psychiatrists found that the majority believe SNRIs work better in treating clinical depression than SSRIs and about 44 percent believe they have fewer sexual side effects. PCPs were also included in this survey and it seems that the majority of them believed the opposite despite DR’s spin that a lot of PCPs are on board with psychiatrists. From personal experience, four SSRIs were prescribed to me before I was shifted to a SNRI.

In the up-and-coming SNRI department, DR forecasts a bright future for Pristiq (desvenlafaxine).

Physicians are expected to move patients from Effexor to Pristiq-a newly approved SNRI- over the next two years. … Pristiq will begin to replace Wyeth’s Effexor XR and Lilly’s Cymbalta, especially in
psychiatrists’ practices.

This is an interesting analysis from DR considering that psychiatrists, health insurers, and even some investors seem less than impressed with the slight advantages the “me-too” drug has over Effexor.

(logos from Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Wyeth)

Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week

The Pursuit of Happiness

This post kicks off Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week.

Two weeks ago, CLPsych and Gianna, among others, celebrated Bipolar Overawareness Week. To cap off Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve declared this last week of May Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week. Use this checklist to identify whether you may possibly be “overaware” and “overmedicated” for depression:

  • If you’re on Zoloft because you’ve never been sad or anxious.
  • If you get a prescription for Lexapro on Thursday because you had a bad day on Tuesday.
  • If you take Paxil because you’re never restless or irritable.
  • If you are on Pristiq as a result of sadness and guilt over your Wii-related injury (eg, throwing your shoulder out or tripping over the coffee table).
  • If you are on Celexa because you hate the job that you disliked anyway before you began the medication.
  • If you are on Cymbalta because you are tired after normal long, exhausting days at your job(s).
  • If you are on Effexor only because you overate during the holidays.
  • If you take Prozac because you’ve never had passing thoughts of suicide.

If you meet any of the criteria above, this is a medical emergency. You are overaware and overmedicated. Go see your doctor immediately and discuss treatment options that involve non-medication and/or talk therapy.

Now, the disclaimer.
The checklist above is satire. It is not intended to poke fun at those who suffer with real clinical depression (of which I am one). It is intended to mock the extremely high number of people in the U.S. who are diagnosed with depression and medicated with antidepressants. This is not a medically based checklist for anything. It is not a professional recommendation or intended for professional use. It is not intended to be serious. In fact, it is not intended to be seriously serious. If you take this to your doctor, he or she will probably diagnose you with something other than depression. If you have been offended by this post, don’t be; you shouldn’t come close to meeting the criteria above. And if you do, then you really should go to a doctor. While I meet the criterion for sadness over my Wii-related injury, I don’t take Pristiq for it. If you have something nice to say, click on the Comments link below. If you don’t have something nice to say, click on the Comments link below.

(comic from problogs.com)

Loose Screws Mental Health News

John Grohol at PsychCentral reports that the fate of the mental health parity bill is uncertain as its main champion, Sen. Ted Kennedy, takes a leave of absence to focus on treatment of his brain tumor. I echo John’s thoughts in hoping to see that other senators are willing to carry the torch and pass this important piece of legislation.


I came across a post from Kalea Chapman at pasadena therapist in which she linked to a WSJ article on whether veterans suffering from PTSD should be awarded the Purple Heart.

Supporters of awarding the Purple Heart to veterans with PTSD believe the move would reduce the stigma that surrounds the disorder and spur more soldiers and Marines to seek help without fear of limiting their careers.

Opponents argue that the Purple Heart should be reserved for physical injuries, as has been the case since the medal was reinstituted by Congress in 1932.

I side with the opponents. The Purple Heart should be awarded to be people who have visible evidence of bravery. With the rising number of PTSD prevalence, I’m afraid that the award would be handed out like candy. The rising number of veterans with PTSD on disability has caused enough of an issue that a Texas VA facility wanted mental health officials to stop diagnosing veterans with the condition.


Jordan Burnham, an 18-year-old student who survived a nine-story jump from a building, plans on walking at his graduation with the assistance of two canes. A family who used to attend my church knows this family and put him on my church’s prayer list. It’s a small world, after all.


Finally, it looks like expecting moms should have no fear of causing birth defects in their baby while taking antidepressants, according to a study being published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

A research team from Montreal University studied more than 2000 pregnant women on antidepressants and discovered the drugs did not present any adverse effects. However, it sounds like they only oversaw the women while they were pregnant in their first trimester. I haven’t seen the actual study but it doesn’t seem to mention whether the women discontinued the antidepressants after the first trimester.

Analysis of "Depression: Out of the Shadows"


The show is essentially Depression 101 – for those new to learning
about the illness.
As someone who struggles with depression (within
bipolar disorder), I found a lot of the two hours pretty boring (90
minutes on personal stories and about 22 minutes for "candid
conversation"). The "a lot" comes from the stuff that I've either heard before or flies over my head, eg, how depression affects the brain, prefrontal cortex, neurotransmitters, synapses, etc. The personal stories were powerful: depressingly heartwarming. (Yes, I mean that.)

My heart sank as I heard the stories of Emma and Hart, teenagers who were diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, respectively. Both were such extreme cases that they needed to be sent away for special psychiatric care. They are on medications for their disorders; the specific drugs are never mentioned.

While watching Deana's story of treatment-resistant depression, I instantly thought of Herb of VNSDepression.com whose wife suffers from the same malady.

I tried to listen attentively for the antidepressant that Ellie, who suffered from PPD after the birth of her first child, would be taking during her next pregnancy. It was never mentioned.

My jaw nearly dropped to the carpet as Andrew Solomon, carefully plucked brightly colored pills from his pillbox that he takes every morning for his unipolar depression: Remeron, Zoloft, Zyprexa, Wellbutrin, Namenda, Ranitidine, and two kinds of fish oil. He might have even mentioned Prozac. He takes Namenda, an Alzheimer's drug to combat the effects of an adverse interaction between Wellbutrin and one of the other drugs that I can't remember. Solomon says he's happy. I'm happy for him and I'm happy that his drug cocktail works for him but I couldn't help but sit there and wonder, "Isn't there a better way?"

While I thought the stories covered the gamut, in retrospect, I'm surprised they didn't interview a veteran or U.S. soldier to discuss PTSD. If the producers were able to fit in dysthymia, I'm sure they might have been able to throw in a story about a soldier who struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts stemming out of PTSD. Considering all the stories coming out of the VA, it's rather relevant. It would have been more interesting than the Jane Pauley segment. But I'll get to that in a minute.

As I listened to the narrator, I couldn't help but wonder what alternate perspectives could have popped up. For what it was, I fear none. This was a Depression 101 show — a program designed to either get people to fight against fear and stigma and get help or to open the eyes of loved ones to this debilitating disorder. I'm not sure how to slip in an opposing view on medication from a doctor without confusing or scaring people away. What would Healy or Breggin say that would encourage people to seek appropriate care?

Holistic or natural treatment was not mentioned. It's not mainstream and it's not recommended by most doctors as first-line therapy. I would have been surprised had something been said about it.

The depression portion of bipolar disorder was briefly discussed in Hart's story then Pauley added commentary about her personal experience in the remaining 22 minutes of the program.

Pauley appears at the end of the show promising a "candid conversation" on the topic. The three experts: Drs. Charney, Duckworth, and Primm sit and smile politely as Pauley rattles on occasionally about herself. Some people might find her exchange endearing and personal. After the first 3 minutes, I found it annoying. As a journalist, I wish she would have taken the impartial observer approach rather than the "intimate discussion" approach. In my opinion, she seemed to have dominated the "discussion."

It ended up being a Q&A with each doctor. Her questions were focused and direct. I expected a little bit of an exchange between doctors, talking not only about the pros of medication and treatment like ECT and VNS but also the cons. (Should I apologize for being optimistic?) Charney interjected into the conversation maybe once or twice but was only to offer an assenting opinion. Primm spoke least of everyone on the panel. I think she was placed on the show solely to represent diversity.

There were no "a recent study said…" or "critics say such-and-such, how do you address that?" It was a straightforward emphasis on encouraging people to get help or for those suffering to get treatment. Pauley's segment didn't discuss any negatives (not with the medical director of NAMI there!). The closest the entire 2 hours gets to any cons is with ECT shock treatment and giving medication to growing children. The childhood medication thing isn't dwelt on. The basic gist is: Doctors don't understand how medication works in children but are working on trying to understand it and improve its efficacy.

Forgive me for being negative. The point of the program was designed to give hope to those suffering. Instead, it just made me feel even worse. Thoughts raced through my head: "Well, if this doesn't work, then it's on to that. And if that medication doesn't work then I'll probably be prescribed this therapy, and if that doesn't work, then I'm treatment-resistant at which point, I'll have to do…"

I hope the program does what it's designed to do and that's to get those suffering with depression to seek appropriate care. The one upside is that talk therapy was stressed. I'm a huge proponent of talk therapy myself. Let me know what you thought of the show if you were able to catch it.

In the meantime, this depressed girl is going to cure herself for the night by going to bed.

P.S. Is it really fact that depression is a disease?

Thoughts on Bipolar Overawareness Week: Part III

In all seriousness, I have wondered about the BPD diagnosis but in my mind, have somewhat fallen short. I don’t think my symptoms are strong enough to be plastered with a BPD label.

To conclude my several-post rambling, I should answer the question that I initially posed. Do I think bipolar disorder is overdiagnosed?

No.

Many of my fellow bloggers will likely disagree with me. Zimmerman’s study at Rhode Island Hospital took into account whether those “diagnosed” with bipolar disorder had a family history of the diagnosis in the family. Maybe I’ve turned to the dark side. Just because I don’t have a family history of bipolar doesn’t mean that I can’t suffer
from the disorder. However, I have a family history of schizophrenia: one father and two aunts. Does this put me at a higher risk for schizophrenia? Definitely. Does this mean I could suffer from bp and have the schizo gene pass me by? You bet. I don’t think that I need a first-degree relative to suffer from bp to make me a classic diagnosis for bp.

For instance, when it comes to my physical appearance, I’m the only one on both sides of the family who suffers from severe eczema to the point where my dermatologist suggested a punch biopsy. Does that mean that I need to have a family history of eczema to obtain the malady? Not necessarily. Why is bipolar disorder any different?

Read the rest of this entry »

Response to "Mental Health Blogs Going Bye-Bye?"

From one of Furious Seasons’s latest posts:

Mental Health Blogs Going Bye-Bye?

As I noted earlier, there’s a spate of mental health blogs that are going on hiatus of some kind. Now, it’s my sad duty to report that Gianna Kali’s Bipolar Blast blog is going on an indefinite hiatus as well. You can read her post "Quitting?" for the details. Bottom line: all those years of very high doses of psych meds seem to have injured her body. I cannot even begin to send her enough good wishes. I cannot even begin to express my disgust with some of the bad doctors she ran into over the years.

Also, the Psych Survivor blog, written by a man I only know as Mark, was taken down a few weeks ago, and from what I gather he is in the hospital with heart problems. His was/is a good and strident voice on these issues we all care about and his work is missed.

All of this kind of makes me feel glum, since the two people above had been at the blogging game for well over a year and I sensed that they’d both be around long-term. These are people I care about and it sucks that they won’t be the presence they once were.

Why is it that mental health blogs are so difficult to do and keep going? Why is it so hard for them to find the substantial audiences they deserve? The Internet is crowded with blogs about politics, technology, gadgets, gossip and parenting and many of these seem to do quite well and have huge audiences and long lives, despite the fact that many of them are merely echoes of one another. Are readers of blogs that simple-minded that all they need is the latest news and opinion on Apple’s or Microsoft’s latest bit of software or Obama’s or Hillary’s latest gaffe?

You’d think in a country where 10 percent of the population is on anti-depressants and another 5 percent to 10 percent is likely on some other psych med that there would be a substantial audience for these issues (regardless of what one makes of the dominant mental health paradigm), especially given how wildly popular neuroscience is on the Net. It makes me wonder if we all–and here I include myself–have done something wrong in how we analyze these issues (are we too contrarian?) or if we all simply haven’t been crowded out of the big search engines (that’s how most people find mental health information online) because the Net is so over-populated with pharma sites and allied pro-pharma health websites. I can certainly say that the mainstream media–which usually loves writing about characters on the Net who push against life’s many intellectual tides–has given very little attention to sites like this one, despite the fact that sites like mine have been a very real service to many in the media.

Or maybe the mainstream approach to mental health care is right and the public is just trying to tell us something.

What do you think?

I’ll tell you what I think.

Read the rest of this entry »

Loose Screws Mental Health News

If the state gets its way, hundreds of children could be put in foster homes, in what could be a wrenching cultural adjustment that may require intensive counseling.

Wow. That's all I can say. How do you place 400 different children in foster homes and ensure they'll get proper care? You can't.

NYTimes

“The drugs save lives, and we often have no choice but to use them — even if we have questions about their long-term use. But the questions are big ones, and we owe it to our patients to try to answer them.”

Richard FriedmanDr. Richard Friedman, a frequent mental health columnist for the New York Times, has written a piece that questions the use of antidepressants and how dependent patients have become on them. I’ve read Friedman’s previous columns and appreciate his realistic take on the psychiatric and psychological field. His most recent piece is worth reading.

Blood test for efficacy of antidepressants in the future?

Scientists have found that a biomarker for depression could show whether a person's antidepressant is working. The discovery could lead to something everyone in the psych world has been waiting for: a blood test of some kind.

The researchers looked at the interaction of neurotransmitters and a protein called Gs alpha. In brain cells, the protein acts like a kind of butler, passing messages from neurotransmitters on the outside and amplifying their messages, [study co-author Mark] Rasenick explained.

When the protein is working properly, it's like a butler whose "hands are just flying, cooking and cleaning at the same time," he said. But when the brain is depressed, "it just sits there in the corner."

That's an interesting observation. This might finally explain the difference between "depressed" brain activity and normal brain activity on an MRI. (By the way, has anyone had an MRI performed for depression?)

Researchers compared the proteins in the brains of people who committed suicide as a result of depression to those who did not. "They found the protein would have worked less effectively in the brain cells of the suicide victims."

Dr. Gregory Simon conceded that doctors cannot determine which antidepressant will work for which person.

"There's a long history of research using patterns of symptoms or biological measures — chemicals measured in blood or spinal fluid — to predict response to a particular antidepressant. None of those hoped-for predictors have significant value.

[Genetic tests] would not eliminate trial-and-error, but it would reduce the waiting time with each trial. But it's a long way from a study like this one to a test that's useful to patients and doctors."

Good news for the skeptics about this research study: It was funded by the U.S. Public Health Service and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. But a test simply to see if an antidepressant is working has the smell of pharma somewhere on it.

(Hat tip: Ephphatha)

Pristiq receives approval from FDA

PristiqMore than a year ago, I promised to keep tabs on Wyeth’s new (renamed, rather) drug Pristiq. So I’m living up to it.

On February 29, 2008, the FDA granted Wyeth approval to move forward with putting the drug out on the market.

Wyeth said the company planned a big sales effort to introduce the product to psychiatrists and primary care doctors.

There’s a problem with that sentence. I’ll give you a second to figure out what’s wrong with it. Haven’t got it yet?

Primary care doctors. PCP should not be in the business of prescribing or providing psych meds. I’ve gone on and on about it at length before, but I’ll mention it again. PCPs are trained to treat overall conditions that have no need of referral to specialists. Think about it this way: If your psychiatrist prescribed anti-inflammatory medication because you mentioned that you’ve been having problems with your foot, you’d be taken aback, right? If a dermatologist prescribed heartburn medication after a patient mentioned he’d been having heartburn trouble, that would seem almost illogical, wouldn’t it?

(Pristiq logo from Pristiq.com)

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Depression: Theory or fact?

UPI has an article on a study which finds that the media presents depression's "chemical imbalance" as a fact instead of a theory. According to Jeffrey Lacasse and Jonathan Leo, the DSM says "the cause of depression and anxiety is unknown." Lacasse and Leo asked members of the media to submit evidence that supports chemical imbalance as a fact but no one did. This finding comes after the near-damning U of Hull study that asserts antidepressants don't work much better than a placebo on the majority of depressed patients. If the efficacy of antidepressants are this dubious, how much more are antipsychotics?

This article gets me thinking about the idea of media responsibility. I feel like what we call "news" has reverted to the days of yellow journalism. Sometimes, even worse than that. While the majority of publications strive to adhere to ethical practices and accuracy, many major publications will resort to printing anything that sells — even if it's libelous. But I'm getting off track here.

I can't wholly blame the media for sensationalism on certain topics like depression.  Most of them aren't scientists or research experts – they only report what they're told. Take NIMH's explanation of the way medication works for depression:

Antidepressants work to normalize naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, notably serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists studying depression have found that these particular chemicals are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure of the exact ways in which they work.

NIMH isn't presenting the way antidepressants work as a theory. It's an authoritative paragraph that sounds as though it's fact. If the chemical imbalance that causes depression is only theory then one must conclude the way antidepressants work as a theory as well, no? The NIMH has a section that explains what causes depression:

There is no single known cause of depression. Rather, it likely
results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and
psychological factors.

"Likely results" leaves the door open to interpret the sentence as "maybe it's a combination of…" However, most people aren't scrutinizing words that carefully. Most people see this: "Rather, it results from a combination of…" Yes, I'm being nitpicky but the word "likely" still strikes me with a more authoritative connotation than maybe or perhaps. Here's a quote from a recent report from a local news station News 8 Austin:

Depression is more than just a negative state of mind. There are physical changes that occur in the brain that disrupt that natural balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters. (emphasis mine)

There is no single factor that causes depression. In fact, many experts believe most cases
[sic] of depression are a result of several sources. (emphasis mine)  

Again, I'm being nitpicky. "There are" is an authoritative phrase. People are unlikely to argue with a statement that includes the verb "are." Take for example, "There are people outside" or "There are five cats at the door." There's no question in the speaker's mind about whether people exist outside or the number of cats at the door. With subjects like depression that involve psychiatry and neuroscience, the majority of people aren't going to question these assertions either. I'm surprised that second paragraph didn't read, "many experts say …" Unless you're an expert yourself, you'd be unlikely to argue on what an expert says versus what the expert believes.

While I appreciate Lacasse and Leo's study on the inaccurate way depression is presented in the media, the "authoritative" sources on the issue would be loathe to correct it. Right now,  the big picture of raising awareness about depression is more important than to correct a trivial thing about the chemical imbalance being a theory. Pharmaceutical companies don't like correcting minor nuisances like theories.

To sum it up, I think the idea of a chemical imbalance causing depression is a theory. That's not a dubious statement. Unless it depends on your definition of what is is. 

Selective publication on antidepressant efficacy and data

After the release of the U of Hull study on Tuesday, the AFP has written an article about doctors who are urging patients on antidepressants to continue taking them.

Louis Appleby, national clinical director for Mental Health, told the Press Association: "… the message to patients and doctors remains the same — anti-depressants are an appropriate treatment for moderate or severe depression."

I agree that patients on antid's should not cease medication cold turkey. (Trust me on this one. Even with proper tapering, the side effects are not pretty.) I waver on the idea that antid's are "appropriate treatment" for moderate-to-severe depression rather than a "form of treatment." Antidepressants can help, but I'm not sure I like the term "appropriate." But I likely am arguing semantics.

Since the results of the study originate from Britain (despite the fact that it also includes data from the FDA), I can only assume that news reports on this are more widespread over there. In my Philadelphia, USA-world, it seems a little bit off the radar to me. Let me know if I'm wrong.

To Mr. Appleby's credit, he has acknowledged that the British government plans to rigorously pursue routes of alternative treatment in light of the study.

The government has plans to expand the availability of psychological therapies as an alternative to drugs, Appleby explained, with extra investment and more psychological therapists.

"The evidence shows that these therapies are effective and often preferred by patients."

WebMD also covered the recent study.  Dr. Nada Stotland of the American Psychiatric Association insists that the study is not reflective of real psychiatry.

"We know that many people who are depressed do not respond to the first antidepressant they try," she says. "It can take up to an average of three different antidepressants until we find the one that works for a particular individual. Therefore, testing any single antidepressant on a group of depressed individuals will show that many of them do not improve."

Stotland has a point. Patients usually do not respond to the first antidepressant that is prescribed to them. About 30 percent of patients do not respond to antidepressants or experience no improvement until several weeks later.  Even then, patients who are on antidepressants for long-term maintenance, experience the return of depressive symptoms. An article from The New England Journal of Medicine evaluated the selective publishing of antidepressant trials with a positive efficacy:

Among 74 FDA-registered studies, 31%, accounting for 3449 study participants, were not published. Whether and how the studies were published were associated with the study outcome. A total of 37 studies viewed by the FDA as having positive results were published; 1 study viewed as positive was not published. Studies viewed by the FDA as having negative or questionable results were, with 3 exceptions, either not published (22 studies) or published in a way that, in our opinion, conveyed a positive outcome (11 studies). According to the published literature, it appeared that 94% of the trials conducted were positive. By contrast, the FDA analysis showed that 51% were positive.

The authors' conclusion: "Selective reporting of clinical trial results may have adverse consequences for researchers, study participants, health care professionals, and patients." It's an obvious statement; so obvious, it can be easily overlooked.

While it's important to shed light on the issue of treating depression with antidepressants, it seems as though many authors are cherry-picking favorable results to publish. Considering that much of these research studies are backed by drug companies, it's no surprise. Also, I can't fault the authors only. I recently freelanced for a medical publication and learned that many of the submitted articles are heavily rewritten by the editors. Editors are hard-pressed (and probably loath) to publish a piece that criticizes antidepressants when their biggest advertisers include such big names as Wyeth, Eli Lilly, and GlaxoSmithKline. Run enough of those pieces and a publication is quickly on its way to folding.

That's why it's stunning to read the U of Hull study that has somewhat of a negative slant toward antidepressants' effectiveness. While doctors are wisely advising patients to continue any antidepressants they may be on, currently drug makers have launched into damage-control mode.

In a statement, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) representatives express "disappointment" at how the study was being reported by the media, suggesting that news reports may have caused "unnecessary alarm and concern for patients."

Of course these news reports are "unnecessary" to GSK. Letting patients know that their antidepressants might not work better than sugar pills isn't good for business. However, GSK's reps were kind enough to balance out their statement, adding "counseling and lifestyle changes" also are important aspects of treating depression. Then, the company accuses the researchers of selectively reporting their data:

"GSK fully endorses public disclosure of clinical trial results for its medicines and is actively committed to communicating data relevant to patient care," the statement reads. "All the data related to GSK's clinical trial results of [Paxil], regardless of study outcome, are available at the company's clinical trials register at 20 www.gsk.com."

Tell that to the estimated 5,000 Americans who have filed a lawsuit against GSK regarding Paxil. Still, Kirsch, who has received consulting fees from Squibb and Pfizer, insists "the [drug companies] certainly do publish selectively."

I'm inclined to agree.

Do antidepressants provide psychosomatic improvement?

Despite all the hype surrounding antidepressants and their effectiveness, the AP has reported on a new study from the University of Hull in Britain that says antidepressants only help severely depressed people and “work no better than placebos in many patients.”

The drugs used in the study: Prozac (fluoxetine), Effexor (venlafaxine), Paxil/Seroxat (paroxetine), and Serzone (nefazodone).

Irving Kirsch, who headed the study, said: “Although patients get better when they take antidepressants, they also get better when they take a placebo, and the difference in improvement is not very great. This means that depressed people can improve without chemical treatments.” (AP)

This is a pretty controversial finding considering the widespread use of antidepressants among those who have been diagnosed with clinical depression and other forms of mental illness, i.e. anxiety.

According the NIH, depression (the clinical term is major depressive disorder) affects an estimated 14.8 million American adults. CNN cites a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says 2.4 billion drugs were prescribed in 2005; of those, 118 million were antidepressants. I can only imagine as “awareness” of depression increases, the number of prescribed antid’s has increased as well.

Adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between the periods 1988-1994 and 1999-2000.

Between 1995 and 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the use of these drugs rose 48 percent, the CDC reported.

Many psychiatrists see this statistic as good news — a sign that finally Americans feel comfortable asking for help with psychiatric problems. (CNN)

CNN quoted Dr. Kelly Posner, an assistant professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, who said that “25 percent of adults will have a major depressive episode sometime in their life, as will 8 percent of adolescents.” If 25 percent of adults have a “major depressive episode,” does that mean that those 25 percent will require antidepressants as well? I’m concerned about the relatively high number for adolescents. I’m not a fan of throwing pills at growing children.

In light of the U of Hull study, the first course of treatment regarding depression should be non-medicated therapy of some kind. Whether it be “talk” therapy or cognitive behavior therapy, tackling depression really should first be treated with psychologic therapy. Posner says “25 percent of adults will have a major depressive episode.” Major depressive episode does not equal clinical depression or major depressive disorder, for that matter. A major depressive episode could mean anything: bereavement, loss of employment, or a difficult situation without an immediate resolution. I am strongly against prescribing antidepressants to help people cope with “normal” life events. People feel as though that their grief is too much to bear so they go to the doctor in the hopes that an antidepressant will help “dull” their emotions. I can only hope that a doctor will be able to differentiate between true clinical depression and a difficult situation that could be helped without the use of psychiatric medication.

P.S. I looked up Dr. Posner’s conflicts of interest and they were “TBD.” I would feel better had it listed “no conflicts of interest to disclose.”

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Note: I’m manually typing HTML through my e-mail so if any of the formatting is funky, I apologize in advance.

1) It seems that FDA black box warnings on antidepressants targeted for teen use have led to a decrease in adults being diagnosed with depression. In all honesty, I’m not sure how a black box warning leads to a significant decrease in diagnoses, but I’m not a researcher from the study.

2) Doctors at McGill University in Canada are holding out hope for a faster-acting antidepressant. Most antidepressants take up to six weeks to finally kick in while the seemingly promising compounds, RS 67333 and prucalopride, appear to act “four to seven times faster” than regular antid’s.

3) Sad news: While American suicide rates overall have dropped, the rate of suicide among teenage girls have increased. The preferred method of dying? Hanging.

4) Recent reports have been released that Owen Wilson’s Aug. 26 suicide attempt wasn’t his first – in fact, it was his third.

Official reports confirm Wilson attempted suicide, and now a family friend has told The National Enquirer that the recent incident wasn’t Wilson’s first cry for help.

The unnamed source tells the publication, “A good portion of his (Wilson’s) life has been dedicated to fighting depression and addiction… This is the third time he’s tried killing himself.”

When I hear of celebrities who openly admit to being depressed, I immediately get skeptical. Mandy Moore… Zach Braff… Paris Hilton… Depression is the “hawt” mental illness of choice. Everyone can have it and remain normal! Bipolar’s too crazy and schizophrenia is too psycho. Being bipolar means that you’re spontaneously moody and being schizophrenic means that you’re, well, just not all there. No one wants to be the last two. You can be “sad” and “suffer” from depression — that is, sad about your goldfish of 2 days dying. Mr. Wilson appears to genuinely suffer from depression (among other problems) and my heart goes out to him. As for Britney Spears: I’m fully convinced that the woman has a mental illness. No joke.

The Zoloft-rage/violence connection

[This post is quite lengthy so I suggest you grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit down and read it. The following is not for the faint of heart (or those with a lack of time).]

It’s been amazing to me that I’ve received numerous comments on Zoloft inducing rage. I’m humbled by having a Pittman supporter visit my site and post some comments from the ChristopherPittman.org forums. Read the following:

In my senior year in high school I was diagnosed as being severely depressed and put on medication. The first medication that I was on I took for 5 months and it made me really aggressive. My friends and family noticed the change and I told my doctor about it and she changed my meds. After that I was fine. I am normally a very passive person and will let just about anything fly. But the medication made me really aggravated and aggressive toward my friends and family and it seemed that I wasn’t overcoming my depression. I just got done watching the 48 hours investigation on the Discovery Times Channel and felt a connection with Chris. I felt that I had to write this to let you know that Chris is not the only one out there that had these side effects. I think there should be a study done to see how many people that take antidepressants have increased aggression. The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry has deep pockets and many lobbyists. I hope this helps in some way.

And another:

I remember the case when it happened.

At the time I thought, “Zoloft right”.

Let me tell you my physician put me on Zoloft and it took about three weeks for my to become psychotic and I’m a 50 year old woman.

I have three children and I don’t make a lot of money but please let me know if I can do anything for the Pittman boy.

The jury should have been placed on Zoloft before they made they decision. Unless you’ve experience it you simply cannot believe its’ effect.

Brynn and Phil HartmanI did a bit of quick reading/research into Zoloft triggering violence in people who otherwise would have never been violent and it seems that are a few stories out there to support the assertion. I found a few comments on depressionblog.com that mentioned a link between Zoloft and rage fits. A Salon.com article published a story antidepressants inducing rage in 1999. Apparently, Brynn Hartman, the wife of famous comedian Phil Hartman, killed herself and her husband while taking Zoloft. While close friends attribute the sudden behavior on the antidepressant, others attribute it to a combination of the medication with cocaine and alcohol in her system. (Zoloft does have a warning against alcohol use in conjunction with the drug.)

One interesting thing I learned from the article is that this kind of behavior is often labeled under the name akathisia on patient safety guides. Most – if not all – of the major antidepressants list akathisia as a side effect. Here’s the initial description of this condition from Wikipedia:

Akathisia, or acathisia, is an unpleasant subjective sensation of “inner” restlessness that manifests itself with an inability to sit still or remain motionless… Its most common cause is as a side effect of medications, mainly neuroleptic antipsychotics especially the phenothiazines (such as perphenazine and chlorpromazine), thioxanthenes (such as flupenthixol and zuclopenthixol) and butyrophenones (such as haloperidol (Haldol)), and rarely, antidepressants.

Akathisia may range in intensity from a mild sense of disquiet or anxiety (which may be easily overlooked) to a total inability to sit still, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, malaise, and severe dysphoria (manifesting as an almost indescribable sense of terror and doom).

No real mention of extreme anger or irritability mentioned there. But if you read on…

The 2006 U.K. study by Healy, Herxheimer, and Menkes observed that akathisia is often miscoded in antidepressant clinical trials as “agitation, emotional lability, and hyperkinesis (overactivity)”. The study further points out that misdiagnosis of akathisia as simple motor restlessness occurs, but that this is more properly classed as dyskinesia. Healy, et. al., further show links between antidepressant-induced akathisia and violence, including suicide, as akathisia can “exacerbate psychopathology.” The study goes on to state that there is extensive clinical evidence correlating akathisia with SSRI use, showing that approximately ten times as many patients on SSRIs as those on placebos showed symptoms severe enough to drop out of a trial (5.0% compared to 0.5%).

Read the rest of this entry »

Take two pills and call me if there's a birth defect

A recent article in the NYT reported that two studies released in The New England Journal of Medicine claim that an antidepressant could potentially increase the risk of a baby being born with a birth defect, but, uh,  it's unlikely and "confined to a few rare defects."

Benedict Carey, author of the article, points out that the studies didn't have a good sampling to really prove that assertion:

"In both studies, researchers interviewed mothers of more than 9,500 infants with birth defects, including cleft palate and heart valve problems. They found that mothers who remember being on antidepressants like Zoloft, Paxil, or Prozac while pregnant were at no higher risk for most defects than a control group of women who said they had not taken antidepressants."

So what's it's sounding like for me is that researchers got a group of expecting moms together, basically said, "Hey, have you taken an antidepressant?" and the ones who said yes were placed in one control group and the ones who said no were placed in another. How reliable.

Having been part of a clinical trial for bipolar disorder, I know it's likely these women got paid for their participation in this study. (Most people do, from what I understand.) So some could essentially have lied in the hopes they could snag $100. It doesn't sound like these women agreed to have their past medical history released to researchers that could prove they've been on antidepressant medication, they could have just been like:

"Uh, yeah. I took the antidepressant with the happy little egg sad face thingy."

Doctor: "Zoloft?"

"Yeah, yeah! That one. It maketed me alllll better."

Remember – it's mothers who "remembered" being on antidepressants while pregnant, not medical histories that proved that they've at least been prescribed the medication.

One doctor, not involved in the research, had reservations about the so-called findings:

"These are important papers, but they don't close the questions of whether there are major effects" of these drugs on developing babies, said Dr. Timothy Oberlander, a developmental pediatrician at the University of British Columbia, who was not involved in the studies.

Despite the seemingly positive outcomes that "support doctors' assurances that antidepressants are not a major cause of serious physical problems in newborns," both studies uncovered some pretty serious – but considered rare – conditions.

"One of the studies, led by Carol Louik of Boston University and financed in part by the drug makers GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis, found that use of Paxil was associated with an increased risk of a rare heart defect, which the company had previously reported.

The other study, led by Sura Alwan of the University of British Columbia, found that use of antidepressants increased the risk of craniosynostosis, a condition in which the bones in the skull fuse prematurely. Rare gastric and neural tube defects may also be more common in babies exposed to the medication, the studies suggested."

But don't worry, pregnant moms – the risks are low, "appear remote, and confined to a few rare defects." So, hey, even if your baby DID develop a rare defect, at least it's rare! [sarcasm]

I'd take the chance of depression if it meant my baby had a better chance of being born healthy. I'm lucky – I couldn't take Lamictal if I got pregnant. I wish antidepressants would have the same instruction.

NICS the anti-depressants

In my Google alerts, I came upon a link to The Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology. John Horgan, a professor on the blog, received an e-mail from a former student commenting on the future of anti-depressant therapy:

Introducing “pharmacogenomics,” the latest and greatest addition to the ever-growing collection of pseudoscientific portmanteaus. According to a recent article in the New York Times written by Richard A. Friedman, M.D., there will soon be psychological medication that is custom-tailored to a patient’s DNA and genetic structure to ensure maximum effectiveness.

He makes his case with an example: his patient Laura. Laura was depressed, so Friedman gave her Lexapro, a common selective seratonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressant. But Laura was still depressed, so he switched her to Zoloft, another SSRI. Still depressed, Laura switched to Wellbutrin, a non-SSRI anti-depressant. No dice. Dr. Friedman was frustrated; after three months he still couldn’t find an effective treatment for Laura. Then, Laura decided that since Prozac (also an SSRI) had helped her father with depression, she wanted to give it a shot. And voila, it worked!

If only Laura’s genes were able to reveal that Dr. Friedman should have prescribed Prozac, arguably the most well-known anti-depressant in America, from the very beginning, that would have saved a lot of hard, aggravating diagnosis work on everybody’s part.

But wait! There might be salvation on the horizon; according to Friedman it will soon be possible for doctors to analyze a patient’s unique genetic profile and prescribe the appropriate medicine so that time and money would no longer be wasted on the circuitous trial-and-error process of expert diagnoses.

No, what “melted away” Laura’s depression was good, old fashioned SSRI Prozac. But Friedman doesn’t see the contradiction. Instead, he claims that this new process of genetic-based medical treatments, “pharmacogenomics” will revolutionize the medicine, allow doctors to enhance their already astute diagnosing skills, and reduce the pharmaceutical industry to a withering dinosaur.

But what about Laura? What about the Prozac? Could it be that she was genetically predisposed to a specific brand of medicine? Are we all designed to respond to one drug label instead of another? If indeed that’s the case, there is only one logical conclusion to draw: God exists and He’s a Big Pharma shareholder.

Somehow, I’m not so convinced. — Suhas Sreedhar

I'm with Suhas. I skimmed Dr. Friedman's article and the whole process sounds weird. I think Laura probably – haha – psyched herself into thinking that Prozac would work since it worked for her dad.

While genes play a role in generational and familial health, I'm not completely convinced that psych meds would affect a father in the same way as it would affect his son or daughter across the board. Even if it really did work for Laura, I am skeptical that the method could be applied to any psychiatric patient. If a patient doesn't have any family, there we go with trial-and-error. Or we could just search our future FBI DNA mental health database and see if the patient matches up with anyone currently on meds.


Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called upon the remaining 27 states who don't report mental health files to the  NICS to do so. (That was an awful sentence.)

Speaking during a meeting of the nation's state attorneys general, Gonzales urged [states] to participate in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, more popularly known as "NICS."

Then the article (linked to above) jumped to protecting the public from sex offenders:.

Gonzales also called for ideas on how to protect the public from convicted sex offenders.

Mental health experts, however, say Gonzales is overreacting. Sex offenders are less likely to repeat the same type of crime than other criminals, only about 13 percent within the first five years, said Dr. James Stark, former president of the Georgia Psychological Association.

"The whole country is in a predator panic. They've gone crazy," said Stark, who treats sexual disorders at the Marietta and Ellijay clinics of Psychological Forensic Associates.

"There are very few sex offenders who are actually dangerous," he said, adding that most of the 13,000 people on Georgia's registry of sex offenders are there for flashing, being a peeping Tom or having consensual sex with an underage girlfriend.

Maybe I'm overreacting. If a sex offender isn't dangerous, why is he or she a sex offender to begin with? Yup, peeping Toms don't ever turn into psychos. On that matter, try watching Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Psycho. (Please don't watch the remake. You'll be better off for it.)

Women & Antidepressants

Pink, a magazine for business women, has an article in its April/May 2007 issue titled, “The Magic Pill.” (The only way to read this article is to get a hard-copy of the mag.) No, this isn’t about birth control. The subhead: “Antidepressants are now used for everything from migraines to menopause. But are women getting an overdose?”

Good question. The article, well-written by Mary Anne Dunkin, does a nice job of trying to present both sides of the coin. One subject, Pam Gilchrist, takes tricyclic antidepressants to relieve her fibromyalgia symptoms. “One of the [antidepressants] that allows her to keep going” is Effexor (venlafaxine). God forbid the woman should ever have to come off of that one. (It works well when you’re on it, but withdrawal is sheer hell.)

The other subject mentioned in the article, Billie Wickstrom, suffers from bipolar disorder, but had a therapist who diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The psychiatrist she was referred to promptly put her on Anafranil (clomipramine). We all know what antidepressants tend to do for those with bipolar disorder. Wickstrom blanked out at an interview that she says she normally would have aced. In another incident, she veered off-course after leaving town and spent the night on the side of the road with her daughter. “Search parties in three states” were out looking for them.

“Three years and three hospitalizations later, Wickstrom is finally free of clomipramine and has a job she loves as PR director for a $300 million family of companies. She says she’s happy, she’s focused and she feels great – consistently.”

Dunkin’s article uncovers a large, problematic use – by my standards, anyway – of off-label usage by doctors.

“Gilchrist… is one of the estimated one in 10 American women taking some type of antidepressant medication. And a considerable percentage of these prescriptions, particularly those for tricyclic antidepressants, are not used to treat depression at all.

A growing number of doctors today prescribe antidepressants for a wide range of problems, including anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, migraines, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal hot flashes and smoking cessation.”

I’m sure the list goes on, but magazines have but oh so much space.

Melissa McNeilDr. Melissa McNeil at the University of Pittsburgh points out three things:

  1. Since depression is a prevalent (see common) condition, doctors are better detecting it.
  2. Since antidepressants have proven their safety and efficacy, primary care physicians have no reservations prescribing them.
  3. Clinical studies are finding that antidepressants can aid a number of medical issues apart from depression.

My take on McNeil’s points (I’ll try to keep them brief):

  • Depression is way too common to be abnormal. If a woman has a rough patch in life for 2 weeks or more, she’s got depression. As for doctors being better at detecting depression? Studies consistently show that doctors are great at overlooking depression in men.
  • Antidepressants haven’t proven jack squat. Placebos have proven more safety and efficacy than antidepressants. PCPs have no reservations prescribing them because they only know about the positive facts that pharma reps tell them instead of researching the potential side effects.
  • Clinical studies aren’t finding all those things out. Seroquel has FDA-approval to treat psychiatric symptoms (psychosis, for one). As far as I know, Seroquel is not FDA-approved to treat insomnia or crappy sleeping patterns. There are no specific clinical studies to see if Seroquel can treat insomnia. Seroquel is prescribed to treat insomnia/restless sleep because doctors have found that a major side effect of the drug is somnolence. If this is the case, Effexor should be prescribed for weight loss. It’d be the new Fen-Phen.

Dunkin cites two widely used antidepressants for nonpsychiatric uses: Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Prozac (fluoxetine). Zyban, used for smoking cessation is, well, bupropion. Sarafem, used to treat PMS symptoms is – you guessed it – fluoxetine.

Viktor BouquetteDr. Viktor Bouquette of Progressive Medical Group thankfully takes a more cautious approach:

“The widespread use – mostly misuse – by physicians of antidepressants to treat women for far-ranging symptoms from insomnia, chronic fatigue and irritability to PMS and menopause is merely another unfortunate example of the pharmaceutical industry’s tremendous influence on the practice of modern medicine. Take enough antidepressants and you may likely still have the symptoms, but you won’t care.”

Kudos to Dunkin for landing that quote. Since Bouquette is part of an alternative medicine group, he’s got a good motive for slamming pharma companies.

McNeil goes on to sound anti-d happy in the article. Not that it matters, but she is also a section editor for the Journal of Women’s Health, which has several corporate associates representing pharmaceutical companies. (She is also the only source in the article who sings anti-d’s praises.) Dunkin tracked down Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical professor at the Brown University Department of Psychiatry, who advocated patient responsibility.

“Just because antidepressants work for depression does not mean they should always be used. People need to learn skills to manage their depressive symptoms instead of depending on medication. When you take medicine for every complaint, you lose the opportunity to learn how to regulate your mood on your own.”

Oh, for more doctors like Haltzman and Bouquette.

UPDATE: Uh, alleged fraud suit pending against Progressive Medical Group. Bouquette is now part of Progressive Medical Centers of America.

Nothing you didn't already know

Paxil's great for kids

An Associated Press article has reported on how antidepressants have a positive effect on children and adolescents. The upside? No suicides.

Antidepressants used: Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, Prozac, Serzone, Remeron.

Dr. David Brent from the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine is a flat-out idiot:

‘‘The medications are safe and effective and should be considered as an important part of treatment. The benefits seem favorable compared to the small risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.’’

Screw you, Dr. Brent for not taking meds and taking money from drug companies (probably to fund research studies). All meds listed above – Paxil, namely – have side/withdrawal effects strong enough to fuck an adult up, let alone a developing child. Sure, I recommend alcohol for kids: It’s safe, effective, and the benefits are favorable compared to the small risk of alcoholism and drunk driving.

The prestigious Duke University has a smarter and cautious doctor, Dr. John March, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

“He said the suicidal behavior risk, although lower than found by the FDA, demands that doctors and families watch for warning signs.

‘You can’t treat kids with these drugs without taking this information into account,’ said March, who was not involved in the study, but does similar research. ‘You can’t say, ‘Take these and call me in six weeks.’ You have to monitor carefully the benefits and adverse events.’

An addendum: “The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

Tips for proper self-withdrawal from medication(s)

Gianna, a reader of this site, has a great and informative blog, Bipolar Blast. In a recent post, she gives some tips for proper psych drug withdrawal. This is particularly helpful for those dealing with severe antidepressant withdrawal effects. For me, Effexor comes to mind. I also think about "Honey’s" experience with Zoloft. Not only does Gianna emphasize diet and nutrition as an important part of the process, but she also delves into proper titration. (Many people think that the diet and nutrition thing is obvious, but many people overlook that important piece of recovery.)

I understand that many people – especially in the psych world – think Peter Breggin’s a wack job, but he can have some good points. Gianna refers to Breggin’s 10% rule:

"Breggin suggests what has come to be known the 10% rule. Any given drug should not be reduced anymore than 10% at a time. Once a taper is complete the next taper should not exceed 10% of the new dose. Therefore, the milligram, then fraction of milligram amount decreases with each new taper. I’ve found that I have to sometimes go in even smaller amounts. As low as 5% and sometimes people go as small as 2.5%–for people on benzodiazepines it is not unusual to go in even smaller amounts. Cutting pills is not always enough. Sometimes liquid titration is necessary. This may involve dissolving the smallest dose pill in water, club soda or even alcohol, which can then be diluted with water, then using a syringe to cut down milliliters at a time. Medications also sometimes come in liquid form and can be gotten by prescription. It should be noted that some medications should not be dissolved. Especially time released medications. This would be extremely dangerous."

Gianna clearly knows what she’s talking about. Head on over to her site to read the rest of the post.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Since I was born on Groundhog Day (Google it if you don’t know when it is), I found this story about a groundhog so endearing. (And I make sure to turn around on my birthday to see my shadow.)

Cate BlanchettIf you’re over 50 and on antidepressants, look out – you might be doubling your risk for osteoporosis. Fracture risks seem to be unrelated to falls caused by dizziness and low blood pressure. CLPsych’s analysis is also worth a read. (Many thanks to Bob Thompson for the link.)

People has an article on Cate Blanchett talking about marriage:

“Getting married is insanity; I mean, it’s a risk – who knows if you’re going to be together forever? But you both say, ‘’We’re going to take this chance, in the same spirit.’”

Read the rest of this entry »

Antidepressants can't save themselves

It’s all too much to handle

comic

Loose Screws Mental Health News

According to the NIH, mothers can ward off postpartum depression by taking a prenatal vitamin to boost low iron levels. Mothers with iron deficiency were twice as likely to be at risk for PPD. Also, in case you didn’t know, counseling can help or stave off PPD as well.

Another NIH study has suggested that people who don’t respond to antidepressants could be aided by an injection of ketamine. Ketamine is primarily used for anesthesia. According to researchers, a dose of ketamine helped improve more than half of the participants’ mood in 2 hours (all 7 of them) while 71 percent felt better after 24 hours (all 13 of them). Supposedly, the effects lasted for a week for a third of the participants (all 4 of them). That’s very nice and all, but I’m looking forward to the follow-up study that analyzes ketamine’s long-term effects and safety.

A departure from news — are you bipolar? Take this quiz to figure it out! (P.S. Don’t take the quiz seriously.)

Dawdy over at Furious Seasons writes about a recent study that ties smoking with a “heightened risk of suicide in patients with bipolar disorder.” And an excerpt of his conversation with a DEA agent at the end of his post is awesome.

I’m also behind on reading many of the blogs on my blogroll so I’m doing my best to catch up – sorry for the delay…

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Yeah – the copy editor in me wants to try “Loose Screws News.” For now.

Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry is among many of my favorite blogs to read. In this particular post, he rips on Eli Lilly’s zyprexafacts.com, which was set up in response to NYT articles that alleged Lilly drug reps pushed Zyprexa to physicians for off-label uses. I hope to just have a stupid ol’ time and rip on each Eli Lilly press release in response to each NYT article, but we’ll see what happens. I’ve already got one lined up with notes scribbled on the printout; I just need to transfer it into electronic form. (Oh, the joys of being a transit commuter.)

Liz Spikol linked to an article originally published in bp magazine about how difficult marriages are when one spouse suffers from bipolar disorder. The saddest statistic I’ve ever read:

“In the United States and Canada, at least 40 percent of all marriages fail. But the statistics for marriages involving a person who has bipolar disorder are especially sobering—an estimated 90 percent of these end in divorce, according to a November 2003 article, ‘Managing Bipolar Disorder,’ in Psychology Today.”

Um, joy considering that I’m I suffer from bipolar and have been married for just over a year now. This strikes incredible fear in my heart. It’s not that we don’t love and care for each other, but I can only imagine how much a spouse who doesn’t suffer from bipd can take. I hate to say it, but I keep waiting for my husband to walk out on me. Not because I’m pessimistic (OK, I am, but that’s beside the point), but because I fear that he’ll reach a point where he’ll say, “I can’t take anymore of this! I’ve dealt with this for 10 years and nothing’s changed, nothing’s getting better. I’m sorry, but I can’t be married to you and deal with this anymore.” Just waiting.

Kelly Osborne Retarded celebrity story of the day: Kelly Osborne suffers from depression because she’s so privileged. But hey! — she’ll pose for Playboy and get photoshopped so she can feel better. *gags*

If you’re mentally ill and fired for it, don’t bother suing. It looks like the mentally ill don’t have a case unless there’s a physical illness to somehow “prove” it:

“Sixteen years after Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with psychiatric disabilities are faring worse in court cases against employers for discrimination than are people with physical disabilities, researchers have found in a national study.

‘People with psychiatric disabilities were less likely to receive a monetary award or job-related benefit, more likely to feel as though they were not treated fairly during the legal proceedings and more likely to believe they received less respect in court,’ said Jeffrey Swanson, Ph.D., a study investigator and an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.”

I’m not sure how to solve this problem. Psychiatric disabilities are less tangible and harder to prove than a physical disability. It’s easier to wage war against a company if you suffer from a bad back vs. if you suffer from depression. (Whether or not the bad back is a fictional illness is up to you.)

Another oy moment. (The Long Islander in me is coming back full force.) Got a pet that’s misbehaving? Put him or her on an antidepressant. Double oy.

New Zealand is being introduced to lamotrigine (trade name Lamictal in the U.S.). Good luck, bipolar New Zealanders. Best wishes.

And finally, a study has discovered that about half of patients who suffer from some kind of severe burn suffer from clinical depression. (Shouldn’t someone diagnose this as PTSD? That’s pretty traumatic, if you ask me.) While the finding isn’t surprising, the study highlights the need not only to treat the physical ailment, but also to address the mental healing necessary to overcome stress from the injury.

Docs don't prescribe enough antid's: Part II

I finally watched the MSN video that I talked about here.

MSNBC

As I predicted, it was extremely lame. It was a pitch to get on depressed people on antidepressants. The 1 minute 18 second video from Today stated the following:

  • doctors prescribe smaller doses of antidepressants than they should
  • depression is the most common cause of disability America
  • the “groundbreaking new study” says antid’s aren’t prescribed enough to be effective
  • medication and therapy can help 70 percent of patients recover IF they find the right combination
  • Casey Thompson – the lady above featured in the video taking pills (hooray!) – feels amazingly better after getting antid’s

The accompanying article also states that 13 percent of the 123 study participants who did not get better on the first three drugs they tried were helped by a fourth. If I’m correct, essentially 16 people were helped after trying four different antid’s. The article says 37 percent went into remission after starting Celexa (citalopram), made by Forest Laboratories. That would mean about 46 people saw immediate remission of symptoms. The rest – 77 people now – “switched to another antidepressant or continued with Celexa and added a second treatment.” The second round on the merry-go-round helped 31 percent of the remaining group: 24 people. Ok, so we’re now down to 53 people who haven’t been helped. The third attempt – whatever that was, the article doesn’t say – had a 14 percent success rate: 7 people. And the fourth attempt had a success rate of 13 percent of the leftovers: 6 people. That means 40 people were NOT helped by antidepressants are these combination of treatments. Therefore, “67 percent of the total group had been helped by one or more drugs.” Nice pitch.

Here’s where the Today video fails to educate its viewers:

Read the rest of this entry »

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Surprise, surprise — the likelihood of suicide attempts increases with antidepressants.

     “Suicidal patients taking antidepressants have a ‘markedly increased’ risk of additional suicide attempts but a "markedly decreased" risk of dying from suicide, a large Finnish study has found.
     “The research into nearly 15,400 patients hospitalized for suicide attempts between 1997 and 2003 showed that ‘current antidepressant use was associated with a 39 percent increase in risk of attempted suicide, but a 32 percent decrease in risk of completed suicide and a 49 percent reduced risk of death from any cause,’ the authors wrote in a report published in the Dec. 4 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
      “The Finnish study analyzed 15,390 suicidal patients of all ages for an average of 3.4 years. The authors said they did this ‘because previous suicide attempts are the most important risk factor for predicting suicide.’”

I think 15,390 patients is a sizeable, significant study that could probably yield semi-accurate statistics.

      “Among the 7,466 males and 7,924 females examined, there were 602 suicides, 7,136 suicide attempts requiring hospitalization and 1,583 deaths recorded during follow-up. The risk of completed suicide was 9 percent lower among those taking any antidepressants than among those not taking antidepressants.
     “But the picture was not so bright for all those who took SSRIs. It was for those taking fluoxetine (Prozac), who had a 48 percent lower risk of suicide than those not taking medication. But the study found that those taking another SSRI, venlafaxine hydrochloride (Effexor XR), had a 61 percent increased risk.”

So Prozac is better than Effexor XR in terms of suicidal risk. Nice, considering that I've had a 10-year history of suicidal attempts and this study seems to show that venlafaxine increases the risk of suicide attempts. Perhaps Effexor should be prescribed to those who aren't/have never been suicidal?

Read the rest of this entry »

Docs don't prescribe enough antid's

MSNBC antidepressants

What? Doctors don’t prescribe enough drugs? You have GOT to be kidding me. [I didn’t watch the report (work blocks access to this kind of stuff), but it’s probably way off regardless.] On a semi-rant, though, if 22 million Americans are suffering from clinical depression at any given day, do all 22 million REALLY need to be on antid’s? Seriously. It’s like pharma companies are in the poor house and need this NBC report to boost sales. (Ugh, who paid Today for this “free” ad spot?) (article source: Uncomfortably Numb)

Paxil withdrawal

paxilThanks to Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons, he wrote about the Uncomfortably Numb blog. The blog focuses mainly on the side effects (and side effect withdrawals) of Paxil. Having been on Paxil (CR), I can identify. I was fortunate enough to ask my doctor for a switch after three months, but I still have this occasional eye-twitch that lasts for days that has stayed with me since taking Paxil back in February 2004. If I didn’t take Paxil for three days, my nerves just went horrible: I felt shaky and my entire life seemed fluid – it was like constantly walking in a pool of water. Nothing seemed real; everything was a dream. But it wasn’t. Everything was too hard, too much effort, too much anything. I couldn’t stand it. I quit Paxil “cold turkey” (again, don’t do this, kids) and felt worse before I could feel better. I went from Paxil to Lexapro and… yeah, felt worse again.

Lesson? Primary care physicians should NOT give antidepressants to depressed people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Drugging of the Bipolar Mind

From Philip Dawdy's article, "The Drugging of the American Mind," originally published in the Seattle Weekly:

"Classically, the disorder is treated with a mood stabilizer. Lithium was long the gold standard. In recent years, there has been a shift to anticonvulsants like Depakote or Lamictal. Often, bipolars are also given an antidepressant like Paxil or Effexor to deal with bouts of depression. Until 2000, the mood stabilizer plus antidepressant approach was essentially the state-of-the-art treatment. It just doesn't knock down symptoms forever.

Bipolars can "break through" these meds and wind up having acute episodes of rage or suicidal depression."

Wow. The article was published just over a year ago and it describes me to a T today. Well done, Mr. Dawdy, for seeing my future.

"This is an awkward time for mental- health experts, researchers, and advocates. This month, a peer-reviewed academic paper was published on the Public Library of Science Web site pointing out that researchers still have not proved the serotonin-imbalance-in-the-brain hypothesis of depression. What proof there is, the authors claim, is mostly circumstantial. Two weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an article covering the same points in relation to antidepressants."

That was in November 2005. It's good to know that I'm not the only one that sees the neurotransmitter link to mental illness as merely a hypothesis and NOT fact. Many people don't know that at the bottom of each psych med Web site and in the important safety information sheet that comes with a psych med basically says, "We're not exactly sure how this works." Well, gee, thanks for allowing me to take a risk about something you're not even sure about!

Praise to Dawdy, amazing blogger for Furious Seaons,  for uncovering much of this information that most people in America don't want to cover or are too lazy to educate themselves about.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

VNSCyberonics has its vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) while Neurontics is attempting to promote its Neurostar. The Food and Drug Administration will consider whether Neurontics’ device will be able to compete with Cyberonics’ device on Jan. 26. The VNS, according to FDA standards, is the only device that has been proven to show efficacy in depression treatment for those who do not respond to drug treatment. While the VNS is surgically implanted in the chest and stimulates nerves in the neck to alleviate depression, Neurontics claims that Neurostar is not surgically implanted and uses magnetic pulses over the course of three to six weeks to stimulate a patient’s brain.

In the most shocking news ever, the Australian Mental Health Council has found that marijuana can induce mental illness. [sarcasm] Former Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer has noted three significant conclusions from the MHC report: Cannabis use can:

  • increase the risk of mental illness in young adults, namely with those who have a family history of psychosis
  • make any current mental illness worse
  • induce poor education and employment outcomes

This report once again reminds us, kids, that we must always say no to drugs. Especially if you’re mentally ill.

Girl, InterruptedAn article from the UK Guardian points out that Hollywood’s depiction of mental illness is NOT what people experience on a normal basis. Tim Lott states the reality of mental illness quite well:

“Genuinely accurate depictions of mental illness are still rare in all the art forms. Why? For the very good reason that real mental illness is boring. Depressives are toxic and dull. Manic depressives are irritating. People with schizophrenia or autism are largely indecipherable.”

Just in case you didn’t know, depression can be a problem during the holidays. Oh and p.s. from the article: those who abuse anti-depressants are more likely to commit suicide. You know… just in case you were wondering. Amy Alkon at the Advice Goddess Blog rightly shoots down the holiday-suicide increase myth.

NBC5 in Chicago has reported that “brain music” can help fight depression. Brain waves are recorded through an EEG (electroencephalogram) and then the recordings are turned into a music CD containing two files. According to Dr. Galina Mindlin, who introduced the therapy to the U.S. from Russia, says one file helps a patient relax and the other file helps increase “concentration, performance and productivity.” Mindlin adds that the “relax” music helps decrease anxiety levels in a patient and helps the patient fall asleep and stay asleep. The treatment, according to NBC5, has been used in Europe for the past 15 years, but is not widely available in the U.S. BUT if you’re itching to try it, you’d better have some dough in your pocket: it’s not covered by insurance and costs $550.

Antidepressants rake in billions

The following is data I found at USAToday.com. Shouldn’t be shocking but I can’t help but think of pharmaceutical execs rolling around in dough, laughing happily at medicating those who find nothing but hopelessness and sadness.

Top-selling antidepressant drugs in 2005:

  • Zoloft: $3.1 billion
  • Effexor XR: $2.6 billion
  • Lexapro: $2.1 billion
  • Wellbutrin XL: $1.5 billion
  • Cymbalta: $667 million

Source: IMS Health
Give Cymbalta time since it’s relatively new to the market. It’ll catch up. I also can’t help but think that the friendly Zoloft ads have helped push its profit margin to first place. The ads are nearly everywhere. Come antidepressant time, it’s the first med that patients think of and probably ask their doctor for.

FDA expands black-box warning on antidepressants

Black Box Warning

Muy importante:

“A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Wednesday agreed with the agency’s proposal that the labels on antidepressants should be expanded to include the risk of increasing suicidal thoughts and behaviors in young adults.”

This FDA expansion ruling is significant because it expands the black-box warning from children and adolescents (up to 18 years old) to young adults (up to 25 years old). However, what about the gap between those 25-34 years old? And then 34-65 years old? Studies consistently show that teens and the elderly are at the highest risk for suicide attempts. Why isn’t there also a black-box warning for those 65 and older?

My recommendation? The FDA needs to slap a general black-box warning on all antidepressants saying that it “can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.” Period.

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Just another day

Originally written October 16, 2006 (Updated edits in bold red)

“So sad / so sad / sometimes she feels so sad” ~ Paul McCartney, “Another Day”

I’m finishing up my third full day in the psych hospital and I’m accomplishing things totally unrelated to my “treatment.”

I’ve gotten through 100 pages of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It’s an interesting book — never read it before – and reading about Tom’s mischevous ways takes me away from the dreariness of a psych hospital. I have a mind to read Huck Finn afterward.

Your Drug May Be Your ProblemI’m reading several books at once, however. (I’ve got ADD when it comes to books; sometimes I finish them, sometimes I don’t.) I’m finally reading my Bible again and trying to plow through Your Drug May Be Your Problem. It’s an interesting book but most of it is alarming. The authors, Breggin and Cohen, argue against psychiatric drugs completely. The books raises some awareness about the use of psychiatric drugs but I think the authors are mostly crying “Fire!” about an unattended candle. The only time I somewhat took them seriously was their discussion about lithium. I’ve already heard — and now seen — its effects. I think lithium is a drug that really shouldn’t be used any more. Are the therapeutic effects of lithium really worth risking a patient to possible toxic levels?

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Mommy, why is Santa Claus depressed?

Fat people are NOT more jolly! In fact, they tend to suffer more from depression. Studies suggest that doctors should be more aware of depressive-type symptoms in obese or overweight people. I don’t consider my husband, 6’2" and overweight (according to the BMI) by 150 lbs, to be more jolly, than oh say, Santa Claus. In fact, my husband’s penchant for having such a stern face earned him a college moniker: "Mr. Happy Face."

DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT take sumatriptans with serotonin medication. The FDA is concerned that the mix of migraine medications with SSRI anti-depressants could cause serotonin syndrome, a life-threatening condition that occurs when too much serotonin is present in the bloodstream. If you take anti-d’s and suffer from migraines, please see your doctor and talk about other medication options.

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