Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a medicine commonly prescribed by doctors to treat depression. Depressed patients are often told by their GPs that their condition is caused by low serotonin and SSRIs boost levels of a serotonin in the brain which, when released, helps to lift their mood. The SSRIs prevent the nerve cells in the brain absorbing serotonin.This low serotonin=depression theory is bandied about everywhere and can be read on the NHS website as justification for SSRI prescriptions.
Not everybody is convinced though; on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog he writes that the “serotonin hypothesis was always shaky, and the evidence now is hugely contradictory… as a brief illustration, there is a drug called tianeptine – a selective serotonin re-uptake enhancer, not an inhibitor – and yet research shows this drug is a pretty effective treatment for depression too.” A post on ‘Mind Hacks’ points out that “If depression is nothing more than low serotonin, drugs that specifically lower serotonin levels in the brain should lead to depression or at least low mood. Studies which have tried this in both healthy participants and depressed patients show remarkably little effect on mood, with a mild dysphoria being the only occasional effect.” It suits the pharmaceutical companies if we all believe in this ‘low serotonin’ narrative and perhaps some patients may benefit from the placebo effect but I think the evidence is dodgy or at best, the jury is out.
There are many who do not believe in SSRIs as an effective cure for depression, and are even convinced they are linked to suicidal tendencies or violence in those who take them.It is often quoted that death by suicide in the military is at record levels at the same time as the use of antidepressant drugs is also at record levels.Are the pills helping? The army confirms that since 2002 the number of suicide attempts has increased six-fold. A psychiatrist in The Huffington Post wrote, “there is no evidence that antidepressants prevent suicide and a great deal of evidence that they cause it.Second, antidepressants almost never cure depression and instead they frequently worsen depression.”
Even more frightening are the links between SSRIs and the school massacres in the United States.In a documentary called ‘The Drugging of Our Children,’ the growing trend to pathologise the behaviour of US children, and then require them to take mind-altering pharmaceutical drugs as a “cure” is highlighted. The film recounts the tragedy of Columbine and focuses on the largely unknown fact that the gun-wielding teenager Eric Harris was on the psychotropic drug Luvox at the time he and Dylan Klebold took the lives of 13 other students at their high school. Violence and aggression, precipitated by prescribed drug use, is also explored in an interview with Cory Baadsgard, a teenager on Paxil and Effexor who, in another violent incident, took his teacher and 23 students hostage at gunpoint in his Washington high school. It wasn’t widely reported or at least not deemed worthy of any connection, that Cho Seung-Hui, who carried out the Virginia Tech massacre, was on an SSRI as an anti-depressant medication.The film-maker Michael Moore has been vocal about the terrible consequences of SSRIs, saying, ” If every school shooter in the last 20 years had been taking bath salts,would you want to examine the link?” He could have a point.