Confession: I’m on SSRIs

Picture: Christine de la Cerna

To say that I have a family history of mental illness would be an understatement: I’ve got a long, storied family history of men putting shotguns in their mouths and pulling the trigger. I’ve even got a few female suicides as well. Family rumors were that I had a great, great aunt that took a header off a bridge. One of my parents crawled into a whiskey bottle and died. The other recently became persona non grata after putting a pellet rifle to the head of a newborn. Last I heard she’s living in a trailer out in the woods somewhere, gobbling up drugs and claiming to have one fatal illness after another. Throw in a grand lineage of drunks and we’re a family in the classic Southern Gothic style.

Call it a family curse – a tainted bloodline, if you’re into H.P. Lovecraft – but it’s one that visited itself on me in my teenage years and decided to stick around. I developed obsessive, round-and-round thoughts that burned a path in my brain like a record’s needle caught in a scratch and deserted. I knew they were irrational, but I couldn’t do anything about them. Soon they were joined by nervous twitches; compulsive blinking and other quirks impossible to resist. This Greek chorus of madness, along with serious spells of depression that were getting deeper every time, left me feeling alone, ashamed and “crazy”. I couldn’t tell anyone. My hopelessly out of touch guidance counselor – she only knew me by my social security number –  told my parents that I was probably retarded, despite a stellar scholastic record before this neurological gargoyle settled upon my shoulders. My parents, in turn, had their own problems. (True fact: A classic sign that you’re living with drug addicts are threats not to tell anyone about what’s happening in your family. Another true fact: Children of addicts learn very quickly to become peace-makers. It’s a survival mechanism.)

I flirted with thoughts of suicide through school. Why not? I was miserable. I held myself together with greater or lesser success through college. Guess what I majored in? Psychology! (The old adage of “Physician, heal thyself” would apply except I’ve only got a bachelor’s degree.) I got married to a wonderful woman whose family gave (and continues to give) me the love and support that my own immediate family never did. (Funny story: When my in-laws would give us things I’d urge my wife not to take them: “Why are they giving us this? They probably want something in return. Don’t take it!”) I might as well have been raised by wolves.

My problems got worse over time. I started having night terrors. (Hey! Know those? They’re a blast: Episodes of screaming and lashing out that you don’t even remember. I’ve injured myself, injured my wife, and even had the cops show up because the neighbors thought someone was being murdered. Good times.) I couldn’t shake the obsessive-compulsive problems. I was getting even more depressed. I tried exercise, I tried various herbal remedies, and I tried meditation and various behavior therapy techniques. Eventually it got bad enough that I confided to my wife and her family, and told them I needed help. It was kind of a relief, really. We did some checking around and I found a local psychiatrist.

I was intensely against taking medication at first. Nobody pushed it on me. Even the doc told me that I could come back again and talk about it. However, my problem felt like it was killing me – and I felt like killing me because of my problem. You might have heard people say “What’s the worst that could happen?” when faced with a difficult choice. I already knew the “worst that could happen”, and medication might be the only thing to prevent it. I took the pill, Neo.

The medication was an SSRI – a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor.

Fast forward to about ten years later, and I’m pretty damn happy. I write, do publicity and podcast for a living. I work here at the Disinformation Company, and also have gigs with comedian Joe Rogan and publishing giant Random House. I was a huge fan of all of these back in the day, and here I am: I call Rogan a friend and have very good buddies at Disinfo and Random House. I’m fairly popular online and have a blast in meatspace: I’m outgoing and incredibly sociable. I’ve never met a stranger. I’ve got an amazing marriage and some of the best friends you could possibly imagine. The night terrors have mostly stopped and while I still get down in the dumps sometimes, it’s for the same reasons you do. I’m not a zombie, and I’m certainly not a murderer. What I am is alive and well, and I’m not sure that would be the case had I not taken medication. I take it now because my symptoms resume otherwise.

Since the Newtown murders, I’ve had a lot of people emailing and Tweeting me links to various lists of mass murderers who have taken psychiatric medications. It seems that we’re taking a few leaps in logic here. Would you consider murdering a school full of children? Probably not, or at least I hope to God not. No one in their right mind would. Read that? No one in their right mind. A lot of very disturbed people take psychiatric medications (Uh, hey – they’re disturbed) but not everyone who takes psychiatric medication shoots up a movie theater or school. As a matter of fact, most of them don’t. An estimated 20 percent of Americans have taken or take psychiatric medicine. Some of them commit murder. Or steal. Or cheat on their wives. Why? They’re people. There’s an element of personal responsibility in choosing to do these kinds of acts. Sure, there are men and women driven by horrible compulsions, but there are also plenty of very bad people who do very bad things, and they should be held responsible for their actions. Blaming their crimes wholesale – I mean, all of them – on drugs is no different than blaming their crimes on “guns” or “the devil”.

Think twice before you call to ban SSRIs, or equate the mentally ill with murderers or zombies. You might be among that 20 percent of your friends and neighbors taking these medications – some of your closest family members, best friends and good neighbors do, and they just don’t talk about because they’re ashamed, or worried people will think they’re crazy. (Want to find out what it’s like to have everything you say second-guessed – to be treated like you’re defective? Tell people you’ve had psychiatric treatment. Hello, pariah! Good luck finding a job!)

I’m not going to say that SSRIs and other medications are perfect, that they’re cure-alls, or that they’re right for everyone. I’m not going to say that they’re not over-prescribed. Nor am I going to say that the pharmaceutical companies have our best interests at heart and that any medication won’t benefit from additional testing – and that things do gone wrong sometimes. I’ve seen it happen (But I’ve also seen similar things happen with anti-convulsants, hormones, steroids…you name it). What I am going to tell you is that there are people who owe their lives to these things, and I’m one of them.

70 Comments on "Confession: I’m on SSRIs"

  1. Thanks for opening up about it Matt. I think it’s really important for people like yourself to speak up. SSRI’s can’t be all painted with the same brush either. Some are really helpful, some are dreadful and some are mis-prescribed when counselling could help.

    I, like you, suffer from a long family line of depression & mental illness. Thankfully counselling, exercise and eating healthy allowed me to overcome these obstacles, but I was also born with a strong sense of personal development. I know in many instances this will not work for everyone.

    One thing I’d like to reinforce to those of you that want to ban SSRI’s. Go take a trip to your local mental care facility and spend the day. If you get home and still want SSRI’s banned, so be it, but I’ll bet you’ll understand why SSRI (and other psychotropic drugs) are needed and shouldn’t be banned.

  2. Yes I’d say the issue is that there are too many uncaring psychiatrists being paid by Big Pharma to prescribe certain medications over others without really determining if medication is even necessary or if that would be the correct medication.

    Fucking with somebody’s brain chemistry is a huge deal and it’s treated way too nonchalantly in this society as a quick fix. There are certainly many many people that have been put on medications that don’t need to be purely for monetary gain by the drug companies. For those that truly do need them there’s so many types of medications, plus determining the proper dosage level, that adverse reactions & consequences can happen suddenly. People should not be so trusting of ‘mental health’ professionals when they keep making up new ‘disorders’ that are common life behaviors. Also there’s weird things that can happen mixing the medication with other seemingly harmless things like grapefruit juice that can trigger unexpected consequences.

    I’ve been treated with SSRI’s before, & remember one very weird morning where I woke up with a bizarre feeling of my brain sort of stuck between dreaming & reality that remained for almost half a day. There’s definitely a mental health stigma that needs to be addressed in our culture as I completely understand not wanting to tell anybody about it.

  3. bobbiethejean | Jan 7, 2013 at 1:25 pm |

    That was a fascinating, gut-wrenchingly sad survival story and yes, I would most definitely call it a survival story. The fact that you survived your early years is nothing short of a miracle. The simple, underlying message I get from this and other stories like it is that everyone’s story is different. Someone might need SSRIs to function. Someone else may have been misprescribed SSRIs that sent him off the deep end. Someone else might simply see very few changes and remain miserable. Someone else might feel like an overmedicated zombie. Someone else might feel better than they ever had in his entire life. Someone else might…… and on and on and on it goes. Everyone is different and because of that, we shouldn’t be judging people or medications or situations or circumstances by the same yardstick, especially not the yardstick of the Aurora and Sandyhook shootings which are the exception.

    I was on SSRIs since I was seven. I was depressed, probably because my father was an abusive prick who periodically threatened and/or tried to kill us. My depression persisted all the way through my teens into adulthood, never abating regardless of what medications or pill-cocktails the doctors put me on. Some really terrible things happened to me between the ages of 7 and 22. It was at the latter age when I finally decided to down 2,500 milligrams of Risperidol and 5,000 of Zoloft. My mother saved my life. I tried again only a month or so later, opting to slit my wrist. My mother saved me then too. The scene she walked in on…… That poor woman. My life got worse and worse until the day I came to the realization that the medications were doing nothing for me at all and they probably never would. So I stopped taking them much to my mother’s horror. My life didn’t magically get better after that; I had to make it better.

    I worked on not caring about what other people think of my appearance- that was a big hurdle. I am fat. I will always be fat and there is nothing I can do about it. If the rest of the world thinks I’m some couch-sitting Twinkie-gobbler, that’s their problem, not mine. I know the truth and so does the endocrinologist who told me I would never be able to get below 200lbs. At the time, those words were like a death sentence. She said “you have hyperplastic obesity syndrome” – I heard “you will never be attractive, you will never be loved, you will spend the rest of your life being judged, devalued, mocked, harassed, and passed over. Basically, the rest of your life will be like jr high school so you might as well just kill yourself.” Amazingly enough, I got over all the “you should hate yourself because your fat” programming. I made myself get over it. I also made myself get over a host of other things, things that I won’t mention because they’re just too private.

    I had been told there was something wrong with my brain and only pills could fix it so I never thought to try and fix myself. It wasn’t easy but I did it. I’m happy now. I have friends now. I have a girlfriend who I’ll probably spend the rest of my life with. I enjoy doing art and playing video games. I love reading fiction and playing the piano. I discovered that I am a horrendous musicophiliac. I enjoy exercising outside at night, table top gaming, and sometimes, I can even go out in public without the overpowering fear of being spotted like a bigfoot by other human beings. I’ll probably never be normal. That’s fine. But I’m happy. And no pill ever gave that to me. I achieved it for myself through shear force of will.

    The skirmish of Paxil, the conflict of Moban, the Depacoat incident, the battle of Zoloft, the Risperidol squall, the dust up of dosage, the battle of mix-n-match- I won them all in the end by realizing that pills were not going to make my life better because I never had “severe clinical depression.” I had “shitty life syndrome” and there’s no pill for that. There’s no pill that can give me instant, sustainable happy. If I want happy, I have to go find it and fight for it.

    That’s what I did and that’s why I’m still alive. It’s been around seven years and I have not looked back once. I have had no slip ups. I don’t ponder suicide. I almost never get depressed and when I do, I get over it quickly. My life isn’t the best life, not by far. I still have other problems like insurmountable student loans, a job I don’t like doing, and a barely affordable condo that I can’t move my girlfriend into because NO GAYS ALLOWED! Yet I’m happy. I’m happy because I can put things in perspective and I know that things could be a lot worse.

    I don’t use my story to tell other people they should go off their SSRIs because I know that other people are different. Other people have different issues, different lives, different needs, and different qualities than myself. I don’t know you personally but I don’t doubt you when you say you need those medications. I don’t doubt you when you say they improved your life. You’re not me. You’re not those guys over there. You’re not anyone else but you. And that, to me, is the real moral of the story.

    • Ted Heistman | Jan 8, 2013 at 6:48 pm |

      Where do you live? My mother is a Realtor and advocates for GLBT housing rights.

      • bobbiethejean | Jan 9, 2013 at 12:50 am |

        Punta Gorda Florida. There’s a catch. They never explicitly said that’s why they won’t let us cohabit. They hinted about it while simultaneously making it very clear in such a way that they are legally ass-covered.

        • Ted Heistman | Jan 9, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

          That’s just seems weird that you can’t have a room mate in a condo. I’ll ask her about it.

          • bobbiethejean | Jan 9, 2013 at 4:38 pm |

            The bigwigs specifically said that I could not cohabit with someone to whom I am not married or engaged. My mother went in to have a chat with them. They actually asked my mother if I am gay (without actually asking directly because butt = covered) to which my mother replied “No” because my mother doesn’t know I am bisexual (and she doesn’t need to as far as I am concerned). I’m honestly not sure if they won’t let us cohabit because they are bigots or because they don’t want us taking up two parking spots.

          • Ted Heistman | Jan 9, 2013 at 4:46 pm |

            Yeah, that sounds pretty against the law. Maybe in Florida its not. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly the type of issue these organizations she belongs to works with.

  4. Thank you, as serious as this issue can be I had to laugh when you mentioned your fun facts, ” A classic sign that you’re living with drug addicts are threats not to
    tell anyone about what’s happening in your family. Another true fact:
    Children of addicts learn very quickly to become peace-makers. It’s a
    survival mechanism.” In my house it was, “don’t air dirty laundry.” I am still compelled to make peace whenever I can, its that or wait until the exposure to the conflict snaps me and I step in and end it violently (not the best option). I would like to add that an additional stigma to such medications is (in my case at least) that the child who comes out the other end of that sort of upbringing will not reveal the perceived weakness of needed medication, as its the sort of information that a screwed up parent would use as a weapon.

  5. Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | Jan 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm |

    People try to say that mental health isn’t taboo anymore. They’re full of shit. Thank you Matt for that honest and brave revelation.

    I’m glad you found something to make you feel well. I wish I was so lucky. Those pills have always made my problems worse, but that’s me. My medicine is illegal, and has caused me substantial problems with establishment institutions. I’m still thankful for relief to a sense of wellness. What more fundamental right could exist? I am deeply angered that right is abridged so frequently in ‘the land of the free”.

    The fact about most peoples’ reactions to the Newtown shooting is that privileged people throughout this nation have discovered their perception of safety is an illusion, a trick that our unconscious minds have adapted to allow us to function in an incredibly dangerous world. People are murdered everyday. Children are murdered everyday; often directly linked to our society’s propensity toward imperialism and funded by our tax dollars. But as long as it’s ‘those brown kids over there’, none of these upset people gives 2 shits.

    The shooters being privileged boys has a lot more to do with all these
    shootings than the fact that guns were used or that the shooters were disturbed and on meds.
    The solution, in so far as one exists, has a lot more to do with eliminating rape culture and imperialism. That’s a fancy liberal way of saying ‘expect a lot more of this shit’.

  6. Earth Star | Jan 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm |

    I think the real issue is that record numbers of people are today placed on medications without adequate follow up or competent medical supervision. Problems arise mostly when medications or doses are altered. This is especially true when people are misdiagnosed and mismedicated. I know from personal experience.

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm |

      It is often difficult to maintain follow-up w/ outpatient mental health cases. Without family assistance neither the pt or the insurance industry is well equipped to provide continuance of care.

  7. DeepCough | Jan 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm |

    SSRI’s should still be banned, because there is no solid proof they work anyway.

    • bobbiethejean | Jan 7, 2013 at 3:19 pm |

      So they should be banned? What if they really do work and are currently saving people’s lives?

      • DeepCough | Jan 7, 2013 at 3:34 pm |

        What about that “Black Box” warning on SSRI’s? I still don’t think–as of yet within the realm of human science–it is possible to synthesize a pill to adduce someone to suicide, but the pharmaceutical industry has proven me dead-fucking-wrong on that note.

        • bobbiethejean | Jan 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm |

          I went bonkers and tried to commit suicide twice after two weeks on a Zoloft-Risperidol regimen. You don’t have to tell me. But I don’t think that calls for a flat out ban, I think it calls for MUCH tighter controls on how we prescribe it. If any of the idiot doctors had bothered to look at my life, they might have concluded that my depression was situational, NOT chemical, and would thus not be treatable with pills. However some people DO have chemical depression and they need medication for it.

          What we really need to do is get rid of kick back programs so doctors don’t have a financial incentive to put everyone on SSRIs and we need to be more perceptive and more careful about what we prescribe, how, and to whom.

          • DeepCough | Jan 7, 2013 at 8:24 pm |

            The only thing I disagree with is the notion of “chemical depression,” because there is NO STANDARD DIAGNOSTIC TEST currently conducted to discern whether you have a monoamine imbalance of ANY KIND.

          • bobbiethejean | Jan 7, 2013 at 9:55 pm |

            Are you denying that chemical depression exists or just contending that there is no standard test?

          • DeepCough | Jan 7, 2013 at 9:56 pm |

            How can you be “chemically depressed” without any measure to verify that?

          • VaudeVillain | Jan 7, 2013 at 11:40 pm |

            Whether or not we have any means to verify the existence of chemical depression has absolutely no bearing on whether chemical depression exists. You’re literally arguing that a thing cannot exist unless we are able to accurately measure it… a stance that has patently absurd ramifications.

            We do know that SSRIs alter neurochemistry, and we know that SSRIs help some individuals with depression (particularly those for whom it is difficult to identify a situational cause), so it stands to reason that chemical depression is a real phenomenon, even if we cannot definitively prove it.

            If you have a better explanation for why SSRIs are observed to work in certain cases, I’m sure we would all love to hear it.

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 2:13 am |

            Well, you know what, I gotta admit, I don’t have an explanation for “why SSRIs are observed to work in certain cases.” So, with that, I am gonna have to defer to a Harvard Scientist by the name of Irving Kirsch, who proclaimed that the efficacy of SSRIs–drum roll, please–is based on the PLACEBO EFFECT.(!)


          • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 7:28 pm |

            Is that why they work for neurogenic pain and migraine prophylaxis as well?

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 8:59 pm |

            So you agree they are placebos then?

          • If they’re placebos, then how do they cause so many people to commit murder and suicide?

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 11:58 pm |

            Correction: their effects are NO BETTER than placebos, but nevertheless, good question.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 7:40 pm |

            In choosing this source you did of course review the utterly scathing peer review.

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 8:57 pm |

            And what peer review is that?

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 1:20 am |

            There are measurements that are available that have been done in a laboratory setting that are inconsistent with ethical treatment of humans. Namely, we don’t like to take brain tissue samples unless it’s really necessary.
            Now if you want to argue that comparative brain chemistry of rats is not a useful model for humans go ahead.

            By the way the clinical measure would go something like this:
            The recording & measurement of observable signs & reported symptoms –> introduction of pharmacotherapy –> a change in those signs & symptoms consistent with underlying theory, supporting animal testing & diagnostic criteria.

            That is how much of medicine works. Whether for mind or body. There are not always ‘measures’ or ‘tests’ that are appropriate. The response to the chemical is diagnostic in itself.

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 1:56 am |

            “By the way the clinical measure would go something like this:
            recording & measurement of observable signs & reported symptoms
            –> introduction of pharmacotherapy –> a change in those signs
            & symptoms consistent with underlying theory, supporting animal
            testing & diagnostic criteria.”

            Analyzing the existence of a “chemical imbalance” WITHOUT measuring said chemicals themselves is what you call “retardedly superficial observation.” That’s like me claiming I suffering the effects of uraemia without any evidence to support that I have an excess amount of urea nitrogen in my bloodstream.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 2:10 am |


          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 3:04 am |


          • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 8:07 am |

            You are of course as insistent in demanding a test for ‘chemical’ imbalance when experiencing physical pain.

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

            There certainly is a way to verify such a thing. Let’s say you’re dealing with serious back pain for some reason, and have a blood and urinalysis conducted: the test results come back showing high levels of alkaline phosphatase in your bloodstream–survey says, you have renal colic, likely due to inflammation or potential kidney damage (kidney stones are also a possibility).

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm |

            Isolated examples of specific pathologies are completely out of context.
            What if the tests show nothing and you are still experiencing pain.
            Do you want the doc to say ‘Sorry, there is no test to prove you are experiencing pain. We have some theories as to the nature of pain. We even have medications that act on those theoretical mechanisms and there are subjective reports of relief from pain. But since there is no way to test that you are in fact experiencing anything related to these theories or to objectively rate the efficacy of the therapy we can’t do anything for you.’

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm |

            That’s exactly what modern physicians do these days.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm |

            It is obvious from your statements that there is a significant deficit in your knowledge of what physicians do.

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 6:29 pm |

            It’s most obvious from your statements that you’re nothing but a craven mental health Nazi who insists that thoughts are indicative of a disease in itself without taking account any environmental factors, artificial stimuli, or biological diseases which adversely affect the central nervous system or any other causation.

          • You say “craven” and “Nazi” like they’re bad things.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 8, 2013 at 7:26 pm |

            I have never advocated the position you are ascribing to me and it is wholly contrary to my views, training and practice. All the factors that you mention are part of a differential diagnosis. Are you as willing to admit the possibility of other factors that exist outside of the paradigm that you choose for yourself?

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm |

            Then I have no doubt you could briefly explain to a layman such as myself what would ever cause the brain to be “mentally ill” when it’s not supposed to do that.

    • Matt Staggs | Jan 7, 2013 at 3:35 pm |

      Hmmm…..Mayo Clinic or DeepCough….

    • Revolutionary7G | Jan 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm |

      SSRI’s help millions of people, solid scientific research has PROVEN they work, I was prescribed Lexapro for three years while I battled with panic disorder, slowly tapered off the drug, and now I’ve recovered from my mental illness. Before taking SSRI’s, I tried every herbal and holistic option out there and they could not come close to the relief I experienced from prescription drugs. Banning SSRI’s would be a huge step backwards in the treatment of mentally ill people.

      DeepCough, you haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about and you’re caught up in the media’s unfounded fear mongering. “no solid proof they work”, I’m currently a graduate student working at my master’s degree in cognitive therapy and not one psychologist, professor, or psychiatrist I’ve encountered would agree with that statement, but most media and internet trolls don’t understand higher education.

      • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 2:26 am |

        Excuse me? You’re a cognitive therapist, and you’re telling me that I’m full of shit? Well, it would interest you to know that that the reason why no psychologist, professor, or psychiatrist would agree with the notion that SSRIs don’t work is probably because they are dogmatists, for one; secondly, consider for a moment that the latter, according to an investigation from ProPublica, is party to many gifts from the pharmaceutical industry; thirdly, I can drop some names of people who specialized in psychology and psychiatry who do not agree with the medicalization of mental illness due to the lack, if not total absence of, science in the area of psychopharmacology. Look up Peter Breggin, M.D. and David Rosenhan. Breggin has testified to the very negative effects of SSRIs on the brain and human behavior and David Rosenhan is notorious for demonstrating that it is virtually impossible to distinguish between a sane or insane person (“On Being Sane in Insane Places”).

        • You keep your fringe paranoia, honey. The rest of us will evolve into mammals.

          • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm |

            I had no idea “60 Minutes” was “fringe paranoia.”

          • Revolutionary7G | Jan 8, 2013 at 11:51 pm |

            I watched that “60 Minutes” and its no secret that good research has proven that certain SSRI’s are no better than a placebo. However, this does don’t mean they should be banned and millions will still testify that placebo or not, SSRI’s have greatly improved or even saved their lives. Stop buying into fear mongering and fringe psychology, SSRI’s do much much more good than harm. Are they over prescribed? yes! Should they be totally banned? Of course not!

      • lazy_friend | Jan 8, 2013 at 11:33 am |

        Research has proven that they inhibit the uptake of serotonin back into the cell. What that translates to when it comes to combating depression is still up for debate. If they were truly proven we would not be having this debate. For all we know the magnetic fields in the area where he resides could be what is making him depressed as the brain uses electrical signals to operate, as well as chemical messengers. Proper diet also seems to make a huge difference, the levels of blood sugar especially. Sometimes when I am feeling down and tired, having negative thoughts, I go eat a sandwich, load up on those carbs and suddenly, I am back, kicking ass and taking names. People always want the quick cure, and I understand that. Herbal medicines are also chemicals just like synthetics. One needs to take the placebo effect into consideration as well, if they truly believe in western medicine and the power of the lab coat, the same can be said for people that believe in the alternative medications. How the brain makes neuro pathways ways ,the way cells connect to each other can physically change depending on your thinking and environment, which is what I am studying now (neuroplasticity). endorphins also need to be studied and all the other neurotransmitters. I am glad SSRI’s are working for you and I agree that banning them or any drug is as step backwards, but the truth needs to be discovered regardless of what end of the spectrum it falls under. All the hot discussions happen when I am busy :(. All the best :). If you are working on a degree, you need to get a little nerdier than that tho. I want, chemical names, the functions they control and how SRRI’s work beside anecdotal accounts and an expectation that just because one is studying something and has a degree from an brick an mortar institution that one truly understand what they are researching and talking about. There would not be a need for research if the subject was already understood and we do not understand neuroscience, we are not even close to understanding what happens between those “100 Billion or so neurons”. Science is not wisdom, science seeks to understand with the scientific method, where failure is always an option and repetition of results is a must for something to be a scientific success, SSRI’s do not repeat results when it comes to depression and general mental illness, more work needs to be done before they are truly, completely PROVEN .

    • Just because you dont see something fit why should you make that decision for others? #1 fail in our society. Idiots who cant mind their own buisness and worry bout themselves.

      • DeepCough | Jan 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm |

        Funny, the DEA gets to decide what drugs are good and bad, and they let psychopharmaceutical drugs like neuroleptics and SSRI’s slide.

  8. Thad McKraken | Jan 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm |

    Great post. Cuts to the complexity of issues such as these. I, like most people probably have a fairly negative stigma against SSRI’s, so it’s good to see the other side of the coin, the success stories. I’ve actually known several people in my life who are on them and seem to benefit, but I always wonder if they went to regular talk therapy, if that would be just as effective. Or some kind of regular spiritual practice mixed with exercise.

    Just a quick story on the over prescription front. When I was living with my brother in college, he went on Prozac briefly to treat his depression. Now, here’s the thing. It was entirely fucking obvious why he was depressed and this was never even discussed with his therapist. They just put him on Prozac. What am I talking about? Well, he was a 23 year old virgin at the time. That’s right, he’d gone through not only high school but all the way through college without getting laid or having a serious girlfriend. I’m not a psychologist (although like you, I do have a psych degree), but I’ll just go out on a limb and say my brother was depressed because he was a 23 year old virgin who had never had a girlfriend. Instead of addressing these issues, they put him on Prozac.

    So, a few things. One, he stopped having the ability to have an orgasm. Yeah, that was just the side effect it had on him. Quite an odd one for a dude. Also, he just started talking to himself randomly. Myself and my other roommate would point it out to him. We’d hear him talking, knock on his door and ask, hey, were you asking us something? He wouldn’t know what we were talking about. He didn’t even know he was doing this.

    Long story short, because of the orgasm thing, he eventually stopped taking them. A year or so later he met a girl he ended up marrying and hasn’t been back in therapy or on meds since.

  9. Thanks for sharing, some parenting styles can create children who fit into the marginal classification. I tried an SSRI and It didn’t work for me. I also went off them cold turkey, and it was harsher than coming off some street drugs. Perhaps when I get health insurance I will try again. As for blaming something instead of looking at many things. Using fears to sway people can be effective, but it can create more problems.

  10. Ted Heistman | Jan 7, 2013 at 7:00 pm |

    Both of cartoonist R. Crumb’s brothers were diagnosed with mental illness. One committed suicide. I think there is a connection with creativity and diagnosis of mental illness. Personally, I too have a history of mental illness on both sides of my family. I choose not to medicate. I made this decision when I was eight years old and diagnosed with ADHD and other learning disabilities. I was prescribed Ritalin. I took it for one day and showed marked improvement in my class work and behavior. I just didn’t feel like myself though.

    I think because of my brain chemistry I am able to more easily access altered states of consciousness and “non-ordinary” reality than other people. I feel like nature makes a gamble with certain people. Putting slight genetic mutations out there. It probably ends in disaster more often then not.

  11. BuzzCoastin | Jan 7, 2013 at 8:03 pm |

    having lived with a mentally ill person
    I agree that medication can be a means of controlling the illness
    my experience has shown me that chemicals like THC help my mental state
    I therefore reserve the right to select for myself those chemicals which I find mentally helpful
    I would encourage others to take a similar approach

    I would also like to propose a ban on bans
    I hope the banners will establish a Nanny State for themselves
    so they can bask in the pleasures of Helicopter (drone) Government

  12. BunkersTrust | Jan 7, 2013 at 8:29 pm |

    Modernity and its technological imperative are driving humanity to insanity. Drugs, legal & illegal, can help one cope with Modernity’s Children.

    Another non-drug approach is to reduce the inputs from modernity, especially electronic communication technology. Find a comfortable spot off the grid and chill there for awhile till the cacophony subsides. Doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s worth a try. The approach of Modernity to quell the stress of Modernity, is to take pharmaceutics, which enable some to drink the poison of Modernity and live.

    • Rickenbacker4001 | Jan 8, 2013 at 9:13 am |

      That’s why I meditate in a isolation chamber (converted walk in closet/ vocal booth) with ear plugs and will work for hours in my shop with them still in my ears. Best thing I ever did. Plus, a little ganja, and drumming. I keep away from “news sites” and watching tv for “news”.

  13. VaudeVillain | Jan 7, 2013 at 11:54 pm |

    Thanks Matt.

    I’ve struggled with depression on and off for most of my life. I’ve not tried SSRIs, and I can’t honestly say that I’ve given any kind of therapy (or any therapist) much of a shot either. I am definitely afraid of turning into a drug zombie, and I don’t know exactly what my beef with talk therapy is, but I just can’t seem to stick with it for more than three (very uncomfortable) sessions (that is actually my adult record).

    Glad to hear the other side is real. Maybe I can get there too.

  14. citizen_watch | Jan 8, 2013 at 2:17 am |

    Hey Matt, good on you for coming out of that mess. No small feat indeed! Curious, what is your opinion on using cannabis to help treat depression?

    • Matt Staggs | Jan 8, 2013 at 9:49 am |

      I’ve interviewed Adam Scorgie, director of The Union, and am responsible for the majority of pro-legalization content on As I can neither confirm nor deny my personal experiences with cannabis, either as an alternative or complementary treatment, I’m hesitant to offer any public opinion on the topic.

    • DeepCough | Jan 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm |

      I recommend cannabis for treating depression, but I will stress that it’s taken in small doses until you know what is really causing your depression, Furthermore, I recommend consuming it as opposed to smoking, since the former will give you more long-term benefits with 11-carboxy THC whereas smoking will only give you the short-term benefits of delta-9 THC.

  15. lazy_friend | Jan 8, 2013 at 8:01 am |

    Take saint johns wort, usually a gel cap 3 times a day. Its a mild SSRI. Research it, thank me later. It does make some people a bit fatigued but your mood will be fine even if you are a bit lazy, worth it; drink a bit of caffeine ( a tiny bit, like 2 sips). Don’t take them with other drugs that boost the release of serotonin as it will lead to receptor down regulation and make things worse. Strong SSRI’s are for severe serotonin deficiencies (rare), not receptor down regulation as it messes with the re uptake pump and leaves serotonin in the synapse of the cell, so if you have little serotonin, they are perfect, leaving the serotonin you do synthesize in the synapse triggering receptors , but if you have normal levels, it will lower your pre synaptic receptor density as the brain strives for homeostasis, you wont be able to process serotonin efficiently making depression worse, coupled with other side effects. With a couple of hours of research you can figure this out. No drug should ever be banned and they should all be studied to the fullest. Fuck the police. Neurology is still infant, we are all in a gigantic clinical trial. An abnormal increase in receptors have also shown negative effects, as there are receptors that are responsible for negative mental feedback (there are different serotonin receptors), so much to study It seems like the middle road is the key to happiness with these chemicals and protein based receptors. The supplement Inositol can slightly increase receptor density, helping mood, but you need to test that out. I take Inositol, 500 miligrams daily. Roll Tide… Study the neurology instead of just paying some doctor to do it for you. Knowledge is power and one person will never know everything, there are many forums where people talk specifically about these topics, where people are usually very candid. I hate commas!!

    • lazy_friend | Jan 8, 2013 at 8:24 am |

      The synapse between cells looks like this. Neurotransmitter molecules are the white circles and the reuptake pump which SSRI’s affect are the green dots with black arrows pointing to and from, receptors are the pink ovals, the rest you can study on your own. I am.

  16. Violent/suicidal thoughts are most likely to occur when starting or quitting psychiatric drugs. Not everyone gets these thoughts, but those who do should be taken very seriously. SSRI’s can trigger mania in some users (especially kids or bipolar people), giving them just enough energy and motivation to go through with a violent act. Problem is, you never know who will react badly until they actually TAKE the medication.

    I’m glad you found success with your meds. I took 16 psychiatric drugs over a 9 year period, none of which helped in any way (and some almost pushed me over the edge). I’ve had more success with illicit self-medication than anti-depressants, which is pretty sad. As with anything in life, you have to weigh the risks and benefits on an individual basis. Untreated or undertreated mental illness carries as many risks as drug use in some cases.

  17. emperorreagan | Jan 8, 2013 at 11:39 am |

    SSRIs can be a useful tool that help people function. I know a couple people with severe depression who are really not able to function without them. Banning a class of drugs that has been shown to be effective in treating severe depression would be stupid. People jump to knee-jerk, easy but irrational solutions when they’re scared so it’s not surprising that some people (especially people who were already suspicious of psychiatry) would push such an idea.

    I would say that SSRIs are heavily over-prescribed, in particular because they don’t show much, if any improvement over placebo for mild to moderate depression. That’s a systemic problem, though, unrelated to the the specific medication. Doctors, in general, over-prescribe medication: you have pressure from the patients for easy fixes, pressure from the pharma reps to push their medications (and marginal or off-label use, though that’s technically illegal in the US), and a systemic bias towards intervention.

    Tangentially, I also generally disagree with the focus on the problem. I don’t think answer to the question of “why depression” is to be found by isolating some neurological mechanism and trying to chemically rewire 20% or more of your population. Layering more and more complex half-fixes on top of a society without ever entertaining ideas about the underlying issues will only lead to future catastrophic failures. Yes, use the tools to help people now. But examine the fundamental problems at the same time and address them too.

    For example:If children that grow up in poverty or abusive homes suffer from PTSD, depression, etc. at high rates then maybe it’s time that we start making a serious effort to address poverty & domestic violence (instead of cutting social programs & maintaing judiciary dominated by rich white dudes who don’t believe domestic violence exists).

  18. mannyfurious | Jan 8, 2013 at 1:31 pm |

    I want to qualify my post by emphasizing that I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s experience or even convince someone not to ingest whatever it is that makes them feel better, whether that be prescription meds or marijuana or meth or bath salts or whatever. Ultimately someone like Mr. Staggs knows more about his own experience than I do. I’m just trying to present an alternative viewpoint.

    Here’s the way I look at the situation. Let’s say there’s a man. This man has a tendency to steal food from merchants. Eventually he realizes that constantly stealing food is detrimental to his life-plan, so he sees a professional who knows about this sort of thing. The professional runs a number of tests and concludes that the man has a Mental Illness called “Hunger.” The professional knows that Hunger is a mental illness, because there are a series of processes going on within the brain whenever the man (and others like him) feel “hungry.” (You can read about the brain processes of hunger here: So the professional, with all the best intentions in the world, prescribes to the man a pill. The pill will interfere with the processes of the brain associated with Hunger and the man will no longer feel hungry.

    The question I pose is this: Is the man cured? Or were the symptoms of the problem dealt with instead of the actual causes? Did we treat hunger or simply the symptoms of hunger? And what effect does this ultimately have on the man?

    I ask these questions, because I ultimately believe that in most cases, we treat the symptoms of depression, not the causes. And I get that depression tends to run in families. But so does poverty and poverty is not considered to be an actual physical disease. What I’m saying is that maybe depression runs in families because the situations and circumstances of each individual family member doesn’t differ all that much. And I know that people who read this will come up with examples of “Well, my aunt was very well-off, whereas I’m pretty poor and we’re both depressed” but that’s because maybe the problem isn’t going to be socioeconomic status for everyone, and so on and so forth. Maybe there’s a family dynamic or an aspect of that families particular culture (specific family culture, not necessarily like the “culture of the south” or the “Hispanic culture” or whatever it may be) that permeates the family and causes its members to be unhappy.

Comments are closed.