Lives destroyed by pills for depression

A middle-aged man who loved his family is found hanging by his only brother. A mother of two who embraced life kills herself by standing in front of a train.

What do the two people have in common? They have both been prescribed anti-depressants, after which they acted out of character. Something in their heads after taking the drugs told them that they must kill themselves and they must do it violently.

How common is their reaction to anti-depressants? We don’t know because no one is collecting the information. No one is doing the research. Investigations into drugs are carried out before they go on the market – not afterwards. 

The warning on the Patient Information Leaflet inside the packet of pills may say that certain side-effects are “uncommon”. They may give the figure of how many people per thousand are affected. But the truth is that no one knows how common any side effect is once the drug is in general use. There is too little feedback and what there is not scientifically recorded. It is not collated as “evidence” and medics will take notice of observations only if they are “evidence-based”.

So you and I, and the woman next door may know that there is an alarming number of cases of people who have destroyed themselves while on anti-depressants, but officially it isn’t happening.

Few patients who have ill effects from a drug will report back to their doctors. And if they do, the doctor will usually just prescribe them a similar drug instead.

And that makes things worse because the danger times with anti-depressants are when you go on them, when you come off them and when the dose or the brand is changed.

There is a Yellow Card Reporting System which the general public can use to report the side effects of drugs. This was set up for medical professional some years ago by the medical regulator, the MHRA (originally called the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency). It has now been extended to the general public. 
Unfortunately, the cards are not generally available at pharmacies or GP practices (the receptionist at my GP practice in Cambridge had not heard of them and when she went to consult colleagues she drew a blank) and the system is not mentioned on the Patient Information Leaflet in the packets of pills. However it is possible to report side effects on line if you put in: “MHRA Yellow Card Reporting System”.
When people jump off bridges, throw themselves under lorries or shoot their wives and children, three questions should be asked: “Was this person on medication?  How long had they been on medication? Was the medication changed?”
This information needs to be recorded on death certificates for suicide cases and on court records when anyone is convicted of any violent crime. Then we would have “the evidence” one way or the other.

So often what families say when someone has killed themselves is how out of character the action was. The families are not just shocked at what happened, they are astonished. The person has been taken over by a force so strong, they are actually “out of their minds”. 

That is how powerful these drugs are. Yet they are often prescribed without counselling or monitoring and with a frightening lack of caution.

Ironically, neither the man who hanged himself nor the woman who stood in front of a train was actually depressed when the drugs were prescribed. They were worried. But worry is not depression. The man had become anxious while waiting nine months for a hernia operation and was upset that he was unable to work. For the last year of his life, he was put on a cocktail of drugs including Venlafaxine, Respiradone and Citalapral.

The woman felt unwell and was afraid that she might be developing ME. She was prescribed Mirtazpine, which was switched for Prozac two weeks later.

When most people are upset, it is for a good reason that would upset anyone and they need time, advice, and loving care to feel better, not a chemical cosh. They need someone to do what GPs seem to be so very bad at – they need someone to listen.

It is too easy to hand out pills and too much money is made out of it. That anti-depressants can cause suicide and violence seems to be acknowledged by everyone except the people who could do something about it, the doctors who prescribe the pills and the coroners who preside over the inquests. It is as if because anti-depressants do help some people, the others must pay this high price.

Campaigner Janice Simmons who founded the Seroxat Users Group says she has hundreds of examples of people whose lives have been destroyed by anti-depressants.  She looks for connections between drugs and all violent incidents. Her website is linked to another called Seroxat Stories. She believes that the school shootings in America, for example, are carried out by people on, or who have recently come off psychiatric drugs.

The connection between mind-changing drugs and violence has been known for decades.  As a young journalist on The Yorkshire Post, I wrote about the connection between what were then called “battered babies” and tranquilisers. The first paragraph of my article read:

“Tranquilisers, taken by thousands of women every day, are a direct cause of baby-battering. The drugs, thought to make people more tranquil, produce aggression and violence. According to a team of doctors in Oxford, this has been common knowledge among doctors for 25 years, though GPs continue to prescribe them.”

I wrote that article in July 1975.
Article by Angela Singer, a journalist for 40 years, whose work has been published in both national and provincial newspapers.

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