Relapse Articles

How long is too long for antidepressants?

Friday, April 18th, 2014

long-term medicationYoung people spend too long on antidepressants without examining whether they still need them, a Duke psychiatrist argued in a recent New York Times post.

The psychiatrist, Doris Iarovici, is almost certainly right that more young adults are taking these meds for longer these days than in the past. The problem is that we don’t have a very good idea of how many – or for how long. As a result, it’s hard to know how much concern is justified.


How Lena Dunham’s real-life OCD made it onto Girls

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Girls_logoHow closely does a writer’s work mimic her life experiences? It’s a perennial question made all the more irresistible as it pertains to Lena Dunham,  the 26-year-old creator of one of TV’s most talked-about shows, and her recently-revealed history of  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

In the first season of HBO’s Girls, Dunham stirred up debate by, among other things, repeatedly revealing her less-than-perfect body while playing the show’s main character, Hannah Horvath. What got people talking as the second season progressed, though, was how serious the show seemed to be getting, especially with its depiction of Hannah coping with a resurgence of her OCD symptoms.

Critics, fans, mental illness activists and patients have largely praised the Girls’ depiction of OCD, which they’ve hailed as convincing and nuanced, but agonizing to watch. One hollywood.com writer and self-described former OCD patient called it “some of the darkest, most difficult material with which Girls has wrestled to date,” lauding the show for avoiding the temptation to turn OCD into a mere joke.

The fact that Dunham revealed in a March cover story for Rolling Stone that she’s struggled with OCD since childhood – and taken medication for it on and off – gave the topic more buzz. (I discussed what she revealed-and what she didn’t-here).

In a HBO behind-the-scenes look at one of the episodes, Dunham disclosed a little more about the connection between her experience and the show’s representation of Hannah’s OCD – though she didn’t go into specifics.

For those looking for a more direct comparison, here’s a look about what Dunham has said about her own experiences with OCD symptoms and treatment – and how they compare to Hannah’s.


How did Lena Dunham turn OCD and ‘countless psychiatric meds’ into a hit TV show?

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Lena Dunham-Rolling Stone-croppedLena Dunham, the 26-year-old force behind HBO’s popular and much-discussed show Girls, hasn’t grown famous through discretion.

Part of the cringe-inducing delight of watching Girls is hearing Hannah say things and do things she knows she shouldn’t. And part of what’s refreshing about Dunham herself are her irreverent, indecorous comments and self-revelations, whether on Twitter, New Yorker essays, or interviews.

So I was especially curious to hear what Dunham had to say about her obsessive-compulsive disorder and medication use in a just-released Rolling Stone cover story. Especially since it was titled Girl on Top: How Lena Dunham Turned a Life of Anxiety, Bad Sex, and Countless Psychiatric Meds into the Funniest Show on TV.


The Challenge: Tracking Your Medication History

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Ever have a hard time remembering to take your meds regularly? Now try tallying up all the psychiatric meds you’ve ever taken, their dosages and side effects. It’s harder than you might assume – especially as time goes on.

When I was interviewing my peers for my book about growing up taking psychiatric meds, I started with what I thought was a basic question: Can you give me your medication history – which meds you’ve taken in the past, and for how long?

I was shocked at how many people couldn’t answer the question with any confidence.


Can You Be Too Attuned to Symptoms and Side Effects?

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Doctors and mental health professionals have long encouraged patients to keep track of their moods and behaviors to gauge how they respond to psychiatric treatment.

With the explosion of mobile apps and websites such as PatientsLikeMe, which help people chart symptoms, medications and side effects, we’ve entered a new era of unprecedented medical self-monitoring.

Is this a good thing when it comes to psychiatric medications and mental health?


Can Meds Transform Mental Illness Into Mental Health?

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

I blog for World Mental Health DayToday is World Mental Health Day, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the terms “mental health” and “mental illness” ever since reading a recent post post on the topic by blogger Natasha Tracy.

Natasha contends that using the politically-correct, cheerier-sounding term “mental health” trivializes psychiatric disorders and ends up shortchanging those who suffer from mental illness. That got me thinking again about a question I’ve often pondered: Can long-term, maintenance treatment with psychiatric medication take someone with a “mental illness” and restore him or her to “mental health?”

The answer isn’t as obvious as it might seem.


Ritalin and Relying On Others for Approval

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Today I’m featuring the first of two guest posts from a reader, M., about her experience taking Ritalin for ADHD as a teenager and later taking Zoloft during her 20s and early 30s for anxiety.

In this post, M., now 34 and living near Dallas, discusses how her views about Ritalin shifted as she got older. Ultimately, she came to suspect that relying on the medication actually exacerbated her anxiety – and may even have led, in a roundabout way, to her going on antidepressants later on.

And now, in her own words:


After Years On ADHD Meds, No Shortage of Questions

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

What are the issues involved in taking stimulant medications for ADHD from early elementary school onward? And what happens when someone who has done this decides to quit the drugs in college – only to find her motivation and academic capabilities diminish without the meds, and to suffer a crisis of identity and mood problems upon resuming them?

Two recent guest posts from a reader raised these questions and prompted ample discussion and comments from readers. In those posts, I let the young woman in question speak for herself. Now, I’d like to highlight some of the larger issues her story illustrates.


Seeing Everything Through the Prism of Medication

Monday, March 26th, 2012

I Spy Cynthia KI just wrote a book arguing that taking psychiatric medication from a young age has a profound effect on people’s lives and identities, far more profound than most – including those who take the medications in question – even realize.

But sometimes it’s possible to go too far with this view, to see everything through the prism of mental illness and medication. It’s can be unfair, even dangerous, to assume that just because someone has a history of psychiatric problems and medication use, that that’s the cause of their present problems.

I was reminded of this myself over the weekend.


If I Don’t Take My Meds, I’m A “Completely Different Person, A Scary Person” – A Reader’s Experience

Friday, March 9th, 2012

A little while back, I asked readers to share their experiences with medication. CJ, who first took medication at age 12 and is now 21, was kind enough to write in. At 12, CJ had self-harmed and was suicidal, which was the initial impetus for drug treatment.

Some medications have helped with those tendencies, some only exacerbated them – a controversial topic I’ve addressed in previous posts.

Eight years later, mood swings and sleep continue to be problematic, and antidepressant and antipsychotic medications that help with these issues are ones CJ considers to work. Forgetting the drugs for even a day has alarming results, and CJ sees medication as necessary for living a “normal” life.

Despite reservations about lifelong medication treatment, CJ fears that doctors will think the medications have cured the disorders and stop drug therapy, triggering a frightening breakdown. Another lingering worry – and one I found particularly poignant – concerns meeting someone and falling in love, only to have the person leave upon finding out about CJ’s diagnoses and medications. Even with a team of doctors, therapists and other mental health professionals and a cocktail of medications, this young person sees a long road ahead to recovery and many obstacles ahead.

If you would like to share any aspect of your experience taking medication from a young age, please feel free to email me at kaitlin.b.barnett [@] gmail.com. And now, in CJ’s words:


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Recent Comments
  • vegasangie: What can we do? Evan was so brave and had so much courage for a 15 year old boy. I am 48 and have...
  • Jay: This article very aptly points out the stigma attached to taking these drugs but then seems to stumble in...
  • Kaitlin Bell Barnett: Richard, it sounds like you have a very measured approach to this topic. Very refreshing...
  • Richard: I think that the most important thing that anyone taking any form of anti depressant meds should be aware...
  • psyche RN: Well put, Kaitlen
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