My Life On Antidepressants

Model and writer Sydney Lima had hoped antidepressants would relieve her anxiety, but the reality was somewhat different. Here, she tells Vogue of her experience, and why so many people struggle both on and coming off antidepressants.

telling him I wanted to die. Convulsing through panic attacks, he found me hiding down the back of an alley, trying to keep out of sight. I hadn’t felt “good” in a long time and had hit the peak of a snowballing problem with anxiety. I was drinking a lot, unable to hold down any job due to a sporadic approach to attendance, the only consistency in my life being a maxed-out overdraft.

When I no longer felt I could laugh off the devastation around me, I tried to explain the all-encompassing fear I had been experiencing to a friend, responding to a “Wubu2” with a “TBH bit anxious ATM”. She replied: “Just go to the doctor, I had exam anxiety and they gave me some Citalopram. It really helps.”

Citalopram is one of a group of relatively new forms of antidepressant, collectively known as SSRIs or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. They are most commonly prescribed to treat depression and anxiety disorders and work by increasing levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is thought to affect mood and social behaviour.

The ease in which my friend had received SSRIs for short-term exam anxiety shocked me. Five years previously, after having my depression assessed, answering yes or no to a flimsy list of questions, my GP concluded I suffered from moderate depression, but no drugs were offered…..

Full story

A Life Lost to Prescription Drugs

I live in Scotland and am a campaigner for Government action on prescribed drug dependence, withdrawal and resulting iatrogenic harms. I am in bed most of the time. I tell my story in the hope that it might help others understand what may be happening to them and to help them avoid the many mistakes I have made and the awful price I have paid for trusting the medical profession.

I was born in 1954. I was an extremely sensitive child and a great worrier. I had some years of childhood illnesses and in my teenage years I started to get depressed. Problems at home, high achiever at school and worries about body image all combined to make me deeply unhappy. My mum suffered from depression and this affected me greatly. By age 20 I had started having myoclonic jerks (possibly caused by stress) and for these I was prescribed the benzodiazepine, Nitrazepam. There were no patient information leaflets in those days so I knew nothing about the drug. As soon as I started taking the drug I became extremely hyperactive, almost stopped eating and within two months had lost a quarter of my body weight. I was pleased, I had never had much energy and I hated being too fat. My mother was horrified. I then tried to take my own life, swallowing the bottle of tablets, thinking I would never waken up again. It was a desperate action and i had no thought whatsoever as to the effect on my family, I just wanted to die. I had no idea what was wrong with me. My life was in tatters and I was referred to psychiatry.

In those days, medication was not the first option and I went to group therapy and individual therapy but nothing helped. I continued to be extremely suicidal. I do not remember there being any waiting lists and hospital beds seemed readily available. The hospitals were large, and the wards the same, I was so depressed I didn’t care. At one point I was told I would spend the rest of my life in hospital as happened in those days. At no point did any doctor realise that I had had an adverse reaction to Nitrazepam and I certainly had no idea. After a few years I was put on antidepressants, at first the old tricyclics. Anafranil caused epileptic fits but Doxepin I could tolerate. However, my mental health continued to deteriorate and there were many more suicide attempts and many more hospital admissions. I was barely functional. I married a fellow patent who was functioning better than me. However, the stress of his illness on me was too much to bear and after 10 years we divorced.

I gradually learned all about the immense risks associated with benzodiazepines but I still had absolutely no idea how much the drug was affecting me. In my 30s and 40s things gradually got somewhat better. I continued on the drugs, Nitrazepam and various antidepressants, moving to SSRIs. Again there were many I could not tolerate but eventually settled on Effexor from 2000 onwards. Every day of my life was a huge struggle, my physical and cognitive functioning were impaired but I did not know it was the Nitrazepam. It was now firmly ingrained in my mind that I suffered from depression and that this depression was intractable. I believed it was the result of genetics and biochemistry or maybe it was just me. Psychiatry did not disagree. My grandfather had taken his own life, my mother had been depressed for many years. Despite the daily struggles, I went back to University and had a fairly good research career in the NHS for about 20 years. I gradually grew in confidence and was promoted several times. However, I felt alone and lonely every single day, having absolutely no idea that this was indeed a side effect of the Nitrazepam. I thought it was depression, I attributed everything to depression, it had become ingrained in my mind.

After retiring from work in 2012, I changed GP practice and was advised to stop taking Nitrazepam. I was given no tapering advice. I therefore tapered on my own over three months in 2013. I had only been on 5 mg and that seemed reasonable to me. Functioning became even more difficult but again I failed to link this to drug withdrawal. Six months passed following the end of my taper before I became acutely unwell and bedridden. I cannot begin to describe the torture that I then endured for several years. My brain had stopped communicating properly with my body, and most of my body was numb. My legs and arms were worst affected and movement was difficult. I felt as though I was dying and had no idea the feeling was emanating from my brain. For three months I saw no-one and I could not seek medical help. I could not stand light or sound, could not use the telephone, could barely stand for more than a few minutes. Only managed to get to the toilet and get something to eat which was a huge struggle. Depersonalisation and derealisation were terrible. Memory was shot to pieces, had little awareness of the passage of time. I slept a great deal.

Early in 2014, I started visiting doctors. GPs did not know what was wrong. Psychiatrist who knew me well said it was nothing to do with the drugs and to “think of it as chronic fatigue syndrome”. I knew he was lying. I did not see a doctor again for three years. I was too ill to visit the surgery and in any case they seemed to have no idea or they did not want to know. I remained bedridden for the most part. It was 18 months before I could sit up without pillows propping up my head, My body was wracked with nerve pain. It was two years before I walked outside on my own. Early in 2017, I tried to force myself to walk. The pressure on my brain was such that I experienced two massive jolts, one at the front of my brain and another at the back. The pressure caused my left eye to bleed and my eyesight is now damaged. I now needed a walking frame and wheelchair when outside the house. In 2014, I decided to taper off 225 mg Effexor over 10 months, as I now realised that most of my symptoms of depression were side effects of Nitrazepam. I did this without medical advice. I do not know if this has prolonged my withdrawal symptoms from Nitrazepam. No new symptoms emerged as a result of tapering Effexor but I was very ill and would not have noticed minor changes.

In 2017, I consulted a neurologist privately who said my horrendous ordeal was nothing to do with the drugs. He was lying. Later in the year, I saw an NHS neurologist and he admitted that all my symptoms were due to the shock of coming off Nitrazepam but his letter stated that I had been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and now had neurological functional disorder. I was adamant I wanted an accurate diagnosis linking my symptoms to the drug. I requested an out of region referral to Prof David Healy in Wales. Instead I was referred to the local Substance Misuse Service. There, I received a full and frank acknowledgement that my symptoms were indeed entirely consistent with protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, though I much prefer the term benzodiazepine related brain injury, for that is what it is. I have fought long and hard for this and it should never have been necessary. I have known since April 2014 what was wrong with me and so have my doctors. My only sources of support have been and Beating Benzos Facebook group plus my ever supportive friends and family. I would not wish my ordeal on anyone. I hope that others may learn from the way my life has been blighted from the age of 20, because I was trusting of medical advice.

My website outlines my story in more detail and I blog regularly on the ongoing campaign on prescribed drug dependence.

NHS needs £2,000…from every household to stay afloat (IFS)

NHS needs £2,000 in tax from every household to stay afloat, report concludes.

The finding comes amid evidence of huge strain on the service and a recent promise by Theresa May to bring forward a longer-term funding regime for the NHS.

There has also been growing speculation that Chancellor Philip Hammond is planning to announce a hike in taxes specifically to increase resources for the health service, perhaps along the lines of Gordon Brown’s National Insurance hike in 2002.

| The Independent

The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs

Two years ago, Dr Chris van Tulleken discovered we are taking more prescription drugs than ever before – a billion prescriptions a year in the UK. He worked with a GP surgery to get patients to try drug-free alternatives – with amazing results.

Now he is on a new mission – to understand why we are giving British kids over three times more medication than we were 40 years ago. As a new dad, Chris has a very personal motivation to explore the reasons behind this explosion in medication. In the series he sets about finding alternatives which might be just as, or even more, effective than drugs. He tackles the shocking rise in teens taking anti-depressants by testing if wilderness therapy can work where the drugs are failing. He investigates why parents are giving out so many over-the-counter meds when they may not be always necessary, and he helps hyperactive kids replace their drugs with mindful meditation.

He also digs deeper into the forces driving the over-medication of UK children and asks whether the drug industry itself could be playing a part in the rise. In 2016 we spent a staggering £64 million on one brand of children’s liquid paracetamol. Chris meets a self-confessed fan who reveals she has bought over 25 bottles in less than two years! As a new dad, Chris doesn’t blame vulnerable parents. His research reveals a pharmaceutical industry that helps create a culture which, he believes, encourages parents to unnecessarily use liquid paracetamol. At a family fair in Bristol, Chris creates a surprising stunt to show Britain’s parents when not to give liquid paracetamol and make sure they don’t waste their hard-earned money giving children drugs they don’t need.

One of the other areas where medication rates have increased the most is treating kids’ behavioural problems – prescription meds for ADHD have increased by 800 per cent since 2000. These drugs do help some symptoms of ADHD in the short-term, but side effects can include loss of hunger, changes in personality and stunted growth. Chris joins a group of hyperactive children as they attempt the impossible – an intense course of stillness and mindful meditation as an alternative to the meds. As the families go on transformative and emotional journeys, they discover, with poignant results, that ADHD remedies do not always have to come in a pill.

Drugs and driving: the law

It’s illegal to drive if either:

  • you’re unfit to do so because you’re on legal or illegal drugs
  • you have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood (even if they haven’t affected your driving)

Legal drugs are prescription or over-the-counter medicines. If you’re taking them and not sure if you should drive, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional.

The police can stop you and make you do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think you’re on drugs. This is a series of tests, eg asking you to walk in a straight line. They can also use a roadside drug kit to screen for cannabis and cocaine.

If they think you’re unfit to drive because of taking drugs, you’ll be arrested and will have to take a blood or urine test at a police station.

You could be charged with a crime if the test shows you’ve taken drugs.

Prescription medicines

It’s illegal in England and Wales to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving.

It’s an offence to drive if you have over the specified limits of certain drugs in your blood and you haven’t been prescribed them.

Talk to your doctor about whether you should drive if you’ve been prescribed any of the following drugs:

  • amphetamine, eg dexamphetamine or selegiline
  • clonazepam
  • diazepam
  • flunitrazepam
  • lorazepam
  • methadone
  • morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, eg codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
  • oxazepam
  • temazepam

You can drive after taking these drugs if:

  • you’ve been prescribed them and followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional
  • they aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits

You could be prosecuted if you drive with certain levels of these drugs in your body and you haven’t been prescribed them.

The law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive.

Penalties for drug driving

If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get:

  • a minimum 1 year driving ban
  • an unlimited fine
  • up to 6 months in prison
  • a criminal record

Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years.

The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Other problems you could face

A conviction for drug driving also means:

  • your car insurance costs will increase significantly
  • if you drive for work, your employer will see your conviction on your licence
  • you may have trouble travelling to countries like the USA

( source: )

Podcasts & Audio Files

Episode 1 Professor John Read on the epidemic of psychiatric overprescribing, the lack of research on withdrawal and pharmaceutical marketing and lobbying

Episode 2 Claire talks about antidepressant withdrawal, tapering and SSRI discontinuation syndrome

Episode 3 Giovanna talks about her SSRI antidepressant treatment over 23 years and her attempts to withdraw

Episode 4 Professor Peter Gøtzsche on why prescription drugs are now the third leading cause of death and the pharmaceutical manufacturers dominance of mental healthcare

Episode 5 Daryl on being prescribed antidepressant drugs at 9 years old and his experiences with OCD, Tourettes syndrome and PSSD

Episode 6 Doctor Terry Lynch on the myth of the brain chemical imbalance and why Psychiatry has pursued a purely medical approach to distress with terrible consequences

Episode 7 Doctor David Healy on prescribing practice, medicine safety and pharmaceutical regulation

Episode 8 Dede Moore on how the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) help her with antidepressant withdrawal

Episode 9 Christopher Jump talks about his transformational journey from psychiatric hospital to woking in peer support and wellness

Episode 10 Kevin P Miller talks about his documentary films Generation Rx (2009) and Letters From Generation Rx (2015) which tell the powerful stories of families harmed by their psychiatric medications

Episode 11 Nora talks about her extreme adverse reaction to an antidepressant which started almost immediately and left her with physical, emotional and psychological problems

Episode 12 Doctor Lucy Johnstone on how the underlying causes of emotional distress are often unexplored, and why that might be

Episode 13 Susie talks about stopping her antidepressant cold turkey after 2 years and how her doctors failed to recognise antidepressant withdrawal

Episode 14 Tina talks about her experience with depression, her use of antidepressant drugs and how a change in her medication led to her withdrawal problems

Episode 15 Robert Whitaker talks about the astonishing rise in mental ill health despite the availability of psychiatric drugs

Episode 16 Megan talks about how she came into contact with psychiatric medications and how she approached her antidepressant withdrawal after two failed attempts

Episode 17 Doctor Joanna Moncrieff on psychiatric drug mechanisms of action, antidepressant/antipsychotic withdrawal and the RADAR study

Episode 18 Simone talks about her experiences of postnatal depression, fibromyalgia and her treatment with antidepressants

Episode 19 Marion Brown talks about psychiatric drugs, Human Givens therapy and medically unexplained symptoms (MUS)

Episode 20 Gemma talks about her experiences with antidepressants and benzodiazepines and the difficulties that parents of children with special needs encounter when they seek treatment for emotional or psychological distress

Episode 21 Doctor Gary Sidley talks about his years of experience within NHS mental health services and alternatives to bio-medical psychiatry as ways of responding to human suffering

Episode 22 Meghann describes her experiences of being prescribed antidepressant drugs for OCD at the age of 9 and how she approached stopping them some 17 years later

Episode 23 David talks about his sanguine view of antidepressant drugs and his own experiences of the mental healthcare system

Episode 24 Doctor Peter Groot from Maastricht University talks about his own experiences of antidepressant drugs and his novel, practical solution for those who want to withdraw safely: Tapering Strips

Episode 25 Sinead describes her 16 years of treatment with antidepressants, her attempts to withdraw and how she feels about starting medications for her emotional distress

Episode 26 Judy Meyer talks about her experiences of the psychiatric system and how she became a holistic mental health practitioner and mental health advocate

Episode 27 Elaine talks about her experiences with antidepressant and stimulant drugs, her withdrawal and how she felt judged rather than helped by psychiatry

Episode 28 Chaya Grossberg talks about her experiences of the psychiatric system and her naturopathic approach to mental health and wellbeing

Episode 29 Stevie talks about her experiences taking the SSRI antidepressant Seroxat and her severe and protracted withdrawal from the drug

Episode 30 Holly Higgins talks about her own experiences with psychiatric drugs and withdrawal and how she became a nutritional therapy practitioner and healed her depression and anxiety with real food

Relevant Mad in America episodes

Mo Hannah: Changing the Teaching of the Biological Model

World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day: Raising Global Understanding

Will Hall: A Harm Reduction Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing

Irving Kirsch: The Placebo Effect and What It Tells Us About Antidepressant Efficacy

Olga Runciman: Moving Beyond Psychiatry

Dr. David Healy: Seeking a Cure for Protracted, Medication-Related Sexual Dysfunction

Dr. Jennifer Bahr: Treating the Whole Person

Johann Hari: Lost Connections

Dr. Joanna Moncrieff: Challenging the New Hype About Antidepressants

Laura Delano: Connecting People Through the Inner Compass Initiative and Withdrawal Project

Peter Breggin, MD: The Conscience of Psychiatry (part 1)

Peter Breggin, MD: The Conscience of Psychiatry (part 2)