I’ve been traveling across the country, speaking to people about my book, ‘All the Things We Never Knew,’ and listening to stories about how mental illness impacts families in America. Occasionally, someone will come forward and tell me of their story of recovery.
Tammy, a firecracker brunette with a gorgeous smile, told me how her first depression hit within days after the birth of her second child.
“I’d never felt anything like it. Up until that day, I had no idea what depression even meant.” She spent several weeks in denial, hoping the depression would pass. When it didn’t, her primary care physician recommended she go on an anti-depressant. Within forty-eight hours, Tammy was pushed over into her first manic episode.
She dressed up, drove to the fire station, and began singing and dancing on a fire truck. The firefighters knew Tammy and her physician husband. They took her to the emergency room, and Tammy endured the first of many psychiatric stays.
Anti-depressants have helped millions of people, but they can be particularly dangerous to people with bipolar disorder.
The National Institute of Mental Health says “Antidepressants can make bipolar disorder worse or trigger a manic episode. Try mood stabilizers first and never take antidepressants without them, as antidepressants can trigger mania and rapid mood cycling when used on their own.”
Tammy is one of several dozen people who have told me the story of the deleterious effects of anti-depressants on their psychiatric health. It is a frightening reality that many physicians and urgent care practitioners are prescribing anti-depressants without being trained in how to spot a person who is presenting as depressed, but who is suffering from bipolar disorder.
Tammy’s list of medications increased, until at the peak, she was taking twenty-three pills a day. She says she found a nurse practitioner who was skilled in helping people cycle off medication and reduced her drugs one by one. She now uses exercise, mindfulness, community and family support and stress reduction to control her mood swings. Tammy is in therapy to talk about the environmental factors that trigger her mood swings, and she admits that lifestyle is the most important impact on her symptoms.
If you or someone you love was pushed into mania after taking anti-depressants, I’d like to hear from you. I’d like to see drug companies listing more stringent warnings on anti-depressants about the risk of mania and suicidal thoughts in people who might be suffering from bipolar disorder.
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