“Expensive Tic Tacs”

That phrase keeps rolling around in my head…

“Expensive Tic Tacs”

That’s what saved my life?

“Expensive Tic Tacs”

I just finished reading the controversial cover story – ANTIDEPRESSANTS DON’T WORK – in Newsweek‘s Feb. 10 edition. I don’t know where to start. How about


Yes, that is a snazzy cover – big bold CAPITAL letters and the crying happy pill. Turn the magazine upside down, and I’ll be danged if that crying happy pill doesn’t become a happy happy pill beside a new headline ANTIDEPRESSANTS DO WORK. (Is it me or is anyone else thinking MAD magazine?)

The cover is clever but you are NEWSWEEK and you are making a very, very, very reckless proclamation to millions of silent, suffering people who already are prone to STOP TAKING THEIR MEDICATIONS because they don’t feel immediate relief and they have already convinced themselves that nothing works in their lives so why should these little pills? They don’t need to read the article. You said it all on the cover. ANTIDEPRESSANTS DON’T WORK.

But enough about the cover – let’s move on to the article.

Let me start by saying the author is a very, very good writer. And the accompanying art is very well done. Visually, a very nice package. It is the content that irks me. Obviously, I have strong feelings about antidepressants – MY antidepressants – which are part of a carefully, lovingly mixed cocktail of medications to control my depression, bipolar disorder and alcoholism. Having been diagnosed and medicated four years ago I can unequivocally state the my life has never been this level and balanced and I have never been as creative and productive as I have since I began taking antidepressants and a mood stabilizer.

The gist of the article is this: Recent research has found that antidepressants “are effective, in that they lift depression in most patients. But that benefit is hardly more than what patients get when they unknowingly and as part of a study, take a dummy pill – a placebo.”

The studies suggest “that antidepressants are basically expensive Tic Tacs.” The reason I feel better “is the same reason why Disney’s Dumbo could initially fly only with a feather clutched in his teeth – believing makes it so – and the magic dissipates like fairy dust in a windstorm.”

What I am hearing here is that my medications could very well be nothing more than “expensive Tic Tacs” and that I am Dumbo. If that analogy doesn’t work, think of my antidepressants as “the pharmaceutical version of the emperor’s new clothes.” Guess who is the emperor? Dumbo.

I do no doubt that some people will feel better after taking a placebo. I have no doubt that some people won’t feel better taking an antidepressant. Here’s the problem: NO ONE KNOWS HOW ANTIDEPRESSANTS WORK. THERE ARE NO EMPIRICAL TESTS TO PROVE THAT SOMEONE IS DEPRESSED OR HOW DEPRESSED THEY ARE.

Testing antidepressants is not like conducting a study of a cholesterol or high-blood pressure medication. Simply put, you can’t create a baseline with a blood or urine test before the study and then take another blood or urine sample a month later to gauge the results. The weird thing about depression is that it can mysteriously evaporate and quickly as it can drown you. Another weird thing is that some people need only one antidepressant to get well. Some, like me, need two. If you were to put me in a study of one antidepressant, I might not get better. But that antidepressant combined with another, voila, I’m turning cartwheels in the front yard. Go figure.

What I am trying to say is that I believe the results of studies on antidepressants are mungy. The brain is the final frontier. Because there still is so much unknown about the brain and depression, I am not going to believe emphatic proclamations that ANTIDEPRESSANTS DON’T WORK or that  placebos are nearly as effective as antidepressants. You can show me all the studies you want. Until we know how and why antidepressants work, I am not comfortable with those kinds of statements.

All I know is that I feel good – really good – and I feel level and stable. I did not feel like this – ever – before I started taking antidepressants and a mood stabilizer. So, I am going to keep taking my “expensive Tic Tacs.”

(I deliberately wrote this blog post before reading the research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month. I will let you know how I feel after that. Who knows, I may be eating crow with those “expensive Tic Tacs.”