Millions of Americans have taken antidepressants for many years. What happens when it’s time to stop?
Laura Delano recognized that she was “excellent at everything, but it didn’t mean anything,” her doctor wrote. She grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the wealthiest communities in the country. Her father is related to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and her mother was introduced to society at a débutante ball at the Waldorf-Astoria. In eighth grade, in 1996, Laura was the class president—she ran on a platform of planting daffodils on the school’s grounds—and among the best squash players in the country. She was one of those rare proportional adolescents with a thriving social life. But she doubted whether she had a “real self underneath.”
The oldest of three sisters, Laura felt as if she were living two separate lives, one onstage and the other in the audience, reacting to an exhausting performance. She snapped at her mother, locked herself in her room, and talked about wanting to die. She had friends at school who cut themselves with razors, and she was intrigued by what seemed to be an act of defiance. She tried it, too. “The pain felt so real and raw and mine,” she said.
In other words, don’t panic.
Panic attacks typically occur when a person is under stress. The stress can be physical, like being run down, or emotional, like a significant life change.
Panic attacks are a relatively common experience with as many as one in sevenpeople experiencing them at least once. A little more than half of those people will have repeated panic attacks.
Our understanding of panic attacks has changed over time, but we’ve now come to a good understanding of what panic attacks are and how we can help those who experience them.
It’s important to understand that panic attacks are a physiological expression of anxiety, and not intrinsically dangerous. The symptoms are the body’s natural way of coping with perceived threats. more
Telling people that they’re ‘crazy’ or they’ll become an addict if they take psychiatric medications does more harm than good.
A family member notices you taking an antidepressant and suggests that if you smiled a little more you’d be able to beat that depression without drugs. Other well-meaning friends or family don’t hesitate to share their opinions — often based on myths or misinformation — about psychiatric medications with you, or anyone else. It’s pill shaming and it’s simply another way of stigmatizing mental illness, doctors say.
One in six Americans takes some kind of psychiatric drugs, mostly antidepressants. Many people who have a prescription for psychiatric medications also use talk therapy, mindfulness or exercise to manage their symptoms. But it’s the prescription pills that typically bring out the judgy comments. more
After a few months of my depression symptoms getting worse and worse and the suicidal ideation getting stronger and stronger, I decided to hospitalize myself. I practically had to convince the doctor that saw me in the emergency room that I would commit suicide if he didn’t admit me. I know they wanted me to wait it out and see what they could do in outpatient first and give the medicine the chance to kick in. At that point, though, I couldn’t sleep or eat and couldn’t get the suicidal thoughts out of my head, even for a second.
Being hospitalized was one of the scariest things I ever did, but looking back on it now, I believe it was really what I needed. I not only needed medication and a safe place, but I needed some intensive therapy, some ideas of ways to release some feelings, and I needed a chance to figure out what my next steps would be when I was released. I still use things they taught me there every day. more
Depression and anxiety are different conditions, but they commonly occur together. They also have similar treatments.
Feeling down or having the blues now and then is normal. And everyone feels anxious from time to time — it’s a normal response to stressful situations. But severe or ongoing feelings of depression and anxiety can be a sign of an underlying mental health disorder. more
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder in which an individual experiences recurring thoughts that cause irrational fears and anxiety. Individuals with OCD engage in repeated, compulsive rituals, such as counting items, hand washing and organizing. Executing these rituals provides temporary relief while they are being performed, but the anxiety returns soon after they stop. OCD is a highly destructive disorder that can overtake the life of an individual and keep him from enjoying many life’s most rewarding activities.
The Journal of Anxiety Disorders estimates that over 25 percent of those who seek treatment for OCD also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Individuals who experience OCD symptoms for the first time in childhood or adolescence are more likely to develop a drug or alcohol problem, often as a way to cope with overwhelming anxiety and fear. Treating an addictive disorder without addressing the emotional symptoms of OCD is unlikely to be effective. more
When people combine stimulants with alcohol, Karpyak says, the rush of energy and seeming invincibility leads them to consume significant amounts of alcohol—much larger than they’re used to or normally capable of, which leads to “miscalculations.” But of greater concern than alcohol and stimulants is actually alcohol and sedatives, or a combination of sedatives with each other.
You’ve probably heard that combining alcohol and Ambien can make you act weird—loopy, irrational, generally embarrassing—because people are always getting kicked off airplanes after trying too hard to relax. (Occasionally a nun will consume a glass of altar wine and then try to fall asleep before waking up in a different state with no recollection of how she got there or how she managed to crash a car into a building.) Benzodiazepines, the popular class of medication for anxiety, are also frequently prescribed for insomnia. These include Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, and, of course, America’s long-standing psychiatric favorite, Xanax. more