Stevie Lewis went to see her GP for help with insomnia after struggling with the pressures of starting up a business consultancy. The 41-year-old from Bristol hoped she’d be given something to help her sleep.
‘But to my surprise the doctor announced that I was on the edge of clinical depression — what my mother’s generation would have called a nervous breakdown,’ she recalls.
And instead of sleeping tablets, she was given a prescription for paroxetine, a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), thought to work by increasing the level of a mood-enhancing brain chemical, serotonin.
‘I was completely shocked, not least when he told me I had a chemical imbalance in my brain,’ says Stevie, who now lives in Rogiet, South Wales. ‘I thought very carefully about whether I should take this drug, but in the end I did, because I believed him — he was my doctor.’
However, her shock at being prescribed an antidepressant was nothing compared with the horror that awaited her when she tried to wean herself off paroxetine.
Stevie did not know this was the start of a 20-year battle to extricate herself from the grip of a drug she never needed, during which she would struggle with appalling side-effects that doctors refused to acknowledge were caused by withdrawal, dismissing them as a return of her original symptoms.