Sunday, August 5, 2007

Antidepressants aren't 'happy pills' or funny

Twice in the past week, I heard antidepressants being called "happy pills." I do not like this. I take antidepressants. I do not take "happy pills."

When you make a wisecrack about my medicine, I hear you saying that you don't take depression - or antidepressants - seriously.

First, let me say that antidepressants don't make you happy. Ecstasy is a happy pill. Maybe even Viagra. Antidepressants are not happy pills. I do not get high off my antidepressants.

I like the way antidepressants are described on "They are not happy pills; they don't artificially induce a feeling of bliss or unrealistic well-being. No medication can do that, except for alcohol and some illegal drugs, and their effects don't last. Nor do antidepressants insulate you from life, make you not care about important things, or insensitive to pain or loss. Tranquilizers can do that, for a while, but antidepressants can't."

Here is what antidepressants do: "All antidepressant medications work by influencing the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. ... Antidepressant medications work by slowing the breakdown of neurotransmitters and enhancing the sensitivity of receptors on the receiving neurons."

I know when I make a stink about "happy pill" jokes, people roll their eyes behind my back. They say I'm too sensitive. "Come on, it was just a joke. You need to lighten up. Can't you take a joke?"

Not funny.

One of the biggest obstacles to seeking treatment for depression is stigma - especially for men. Depression is widely viewed as a namby-pamby pseudo-illness. "It's a great way to get time off from work!" "They're not really sick, they're just faking it!"

When you say stuff like that, people stay in the closet. They don't talk about their disease. And talking about your disease with others who suffer from the same disease has proven to be very, very helpful.

My parents, who had cancer, made great friends and found enormous comfort in their cancer support group. There are support groups for people with HIV, cystic fibrosis, eating disorders, diabetes and Down syndrome. Thank God there are a few mental health self-help groups, like Recovery Inc. But most physicians haven't heard of this 70-year-old self-help group, much less know where and when its meetings are held.

Another problem with the "happy pill" joke is that recovering addicts and alcoholics who also suffer from depression and bipolar - and about half of them do - won't, or feel they can't, take them because a "happy pill" will make them high. And then they relapse. Just ask anyone in the treatment industry: Untreated depression and bipolar is probably the No. 1 cause of relapse.

This is why "happy pill" is not funny to us. We are not faking it. We are not taking "happy pills." We are trying to get well. It's no joke.

author: Christine Stapleton
source: Palm Beach Post

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