Are they mad or what?
The Irish Independent have asked me to write this article; are they mad or what? ‘Mad’ is a word I am well used to hearing.
Having lost my son in the ‘most’ tragic circumstances in 2009, I’m left as most mothers with a dead child are left: in cloud cuckoo land, extremely sad and just a little bit mad. In my case I’d say ‘more than a little mad’ but I don’t want to tar every bereaved mother with my madness brush. What is it with Irish people and their reluctance to talk about death and dead people? I have never heard so many people talk about the ‘dreadful’ weather; whatever you do, don’t mention that big fat elephant in the room. Most of the time I couldn’t tell you what day of the week it is, never mind what the ‘dreadful’ weather is like, but please feel free to talk about that big fat grey thing with the huge trunk; my son. He’s dead, not erased from existence, but don’t upset the ‘mad’ bereaved woman whatever you do! Say the wrong thing, by all means, but don’t pretend he didn’t exist and talk about the ‘dreadful’ weather! I can’t tell you how close some people have come to manual strangulation, simply by saying ‘it’s a lovely day’ or more likely ‘the weather’s terrible, isn’t it?’
Before I get shot down for using the ‘m’ word, I’d like to say that the so-called ‘mad’ people that I’ve met in the last three years are no madder than most of you, and definitely not I. Some of these people have been told that they have a ‘chemical imbalance’ of the brain; so in order to keep their brain functioning as it’s supposed to, they will need to stay on medication for the rest of their lives. These mad dysfunctional lot could teach the so-called ‘normal’ society a thing or two; mainly about kindness, compassion and a willingness to help others. They are also the ones who are shouting from the rooftops that the chemical imbalance theory is just that; a theory. For decades we were led to believe that depression was caused by low serotonin levels in the brain. There is no way, never has been, to measure serotonin in a person’s brain, and absolutely no evidence that low serotonin levels ever caused depression.
By way of background; my son killed himself and another young man in 2009. He was prescribed an approved SSRI antidepressant 17 days beforehand. I absolutely believe that these ‘mind altering drugs’ are killing people at an alarming rate. Professor David Healy (a world leading expert on these drugs) has said that the pharmaceutical companies, in a court of law, have no choice but to admit that these drugs can cause suicide. According to Professor Healy, “there are 20 more Irish suicides per year than there would have been and 20 extra Irish cases of violence per year that can be linked back to antidepressants.” So given that the SSRI antidepressants have been on the market for 20 years; that’s 800 extra cases of suicide and violence caused by antidepressants in this country alone.
The first major Case involving antidepressant induced suicide/homicide was in the US and involved a 60 year old man, Donald Schell. This man was put on Seroxat by his doctor, not for any mental illness, but for anxiety; yet 2 days later he shot and killed his wife, his daughter, his 9 month old granddaughter and then himself. The jury found that the drug had caused him to become suicidal and homicidal and found the pharmaceutical company liable, in that Case GlaxoSmithKline. There have been similar Cases since, the most recent in a Canadian trial where the Judge found that an antidepressant caused a 16 year old to kill his friend. The Judge (Justice Heinrichs) concluded that the teenager was no longer a danger and that at the time of the killing “his mental deterioration and resulting violence would not have taken place without exposure to Prozac.”
Shane was sad, I know that; was that depression, no! Can these prescription drugs help with a broken heart or some other awful life experience? Can they un-break a heart or un-dead a loved one? No, but they can cause these terrible tragedies. From the time Shane was prescribed these drugs, he became very restless, which was very unlike him. He seemed to find it hard to stay in the one place for any length of time. What I didn’t understand until later was that this condition is called ‘akathisia’ and is known to be the precursor to suicide and/or homicide. Akathisia is an adverse effect which can be caused by these drugs and is described as ‘inner restlessness’. People suffering from this condition have described it as ‘a living hell’ and also that they would do anything to stop this feeling, including death as a welcome release. My son went from being well respected and loved by his lecturers, friends and family, to a person capable of destroying his own life and that of another human being in 17 days. Whether people believe me or not, matters little to me, as I cannot win either way. I can tell you this though: I knew my son inside out, and if it could happen to Shane, it could happen to you.
The level of ‘antidepressant’ prescribing has never been so high and yet the suicide rate is rocketing. Join the dots here if you dare and please don’t argue the recession point; I’ve heard it already. We’ve come through the famine, oppressive English rule, Centuries of emigration and barefoot children; for goodness sake, get a grip! The suicide rate has never been so high and the barefoot children are long gone; presumably dead from old age and natural causes, not by their own hand. Each year there is (at least) one antidepressant prescription per year for every man, woman and child in Ireland. If these drugs actually cure people; how come we once had less than 1 per 1000 of us depressed, and now it’s more than 1 in 10? In the year 2010 the cost of medicines in the health service was €1.9 billion. Have we all gone mad? Why do we need €1.9 billion worth of medication every year; were we all born with inherent defects that only the (billion dollar) pharmaceutical industry can fix? Wake up and smell the pharma coffee when you take that statin this morning! Is that antidepressant you just consumed keeping you happy or can you remember either way? Without doubt the most medicated Country in the world is the US; would it surprise you to know that the life expectancy in the US has fallen below that of Cuba?
In the latest revelation within the mental health arena (Oct 2012), the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a paper which showed that the risk of suicide (in the first year of treatment) for schizophrenia is extraordinarily high. For schizophrenia generally, you are 10 times more likely to be dead at the end of the first year of treatment than you were 100 years ago. Did you read that? 10 TIMES MORE THAN 100 YEARS AGO! Professor Healy (one of the authors) said “the actual risks of suicide (in the first year of treatment) were 100 times greater than those of the general population.”
Also this week, to much fanfare it has to be said, Minister Reilly said a “very good deal” was made with the Pharmaceutical Industry, to cut the State’s drugs bill by up to €400 million. This he said would benefit patients and the taxpayer. Right; excuse the cynicism here but that’s €400 million over 3 years, which is equivalent to a saving of €133 million a year. What’s €1.9 billion divided by €133 million? The Pharmaceutical industry may find this as amusing as I do; laughing all the way to the bank.
It amazes me that drugs with adverse effects such as suicide, depression, aggression and birth defects can be licenced by the Irish Medicines Board and yet the ‘free will’ of the pubic to medicate themselves is taken away by the banning of herbal remedies. I doubt if my son would be dead as a result of consuming a large dose of ‘Echinacea’. While I realise that all prescribed medications come with side-effects, we in Ireland are not afforded the same level of warning that other countries are. For example, all antidepressants come with a black-box warning in the US which signify that these drugs can have serious or even life-threatening adverse effects.
Of course herbal medicines are not without controversy either; St John’s wort, which has similar properties to an antidepressant, was widely known in the farming community to cause miscarriage and birth defects in cattle. Farmers took steps to prevent this drug from coming into contact with their animals; yet pregnant women are afforded no such warning. 1 in 10 pregnant Irish women are on antidepressants, leading to about 40 extra babies with significant birth defects and 200 extra miscarriages each year. So in the last 20 years, antidepressants have caused birth defects in 800 Irish babies and 4000 miscarriages.
I’m not entirely stupid; I know that some drugs can save lives and there will be people who say “the drugs have saved my life”. Who will speak for the dead people though, do they have a voice? €1.9 billion worth of drugs? Surely I’m not the only one who thinks that this is the biggest wheeze of the 21th Century. The number of people requiring medication is increasing every year. Will we eventually face a world where the majority of the human race will be ‘a bit mad ted’ and will therefore be the new class of norm? It could be seen as ‘the’ miracle of the 21th Century, where the meds are cast aside as the now normal ‘mad’ people don’t need them anymore; let’s all embrace the madness. It would surely be interesting to see what subsequently happens to the pharmaceutical industry; spontaneous combustion? Or just a frantic scrambling to find a way to convince people that medicating the ‘normal’ is actually now in Vogue? The old tale of ‘be careful what you wish for’ springs to mind. Dreadful weather, isn’t it?
Written by Leonie Fennell (for Shane), Dublin Ireland