‘Years of medicated hell’
Kiwi teacher shares her struggle as research reveals 1 in 8 New Zealanders prescribed antidepressants
AKiwi teacher caught up in the devastating 2011 Japan tsunami is one of thousands of New Zealanders being prescribed antidepressant drugs.
New statistics, revealed in a University of Otago study, show almost one in eight New Zealanders over the age of 15 are on antidepressants. But there is little evidence the drugs are helping curb the country’s alarming suicide rates, according to the report released today.
The study was carried out between 2008 and 2015, and experts say these figures have increased dramatically in the past three years.
Researchers said giving people more antidepressants did not seem to be stemming the tide of mental health problems in the wider community and warned of the side-effects of the drugs and the limited evidence about the long-term impacts.
However, experts spoken to by the Herald stressed that antidepressants played an important role in the treatment of some patients.
Evie Aitcheson, who was suffering survivor guilt after being on the frontline of the 2011 Japan tsunami, spoke to the Herald about her “seven years of medicated hell”.
The 33-year-old teacher of Japanese said she returned to New Zealand soon after the disaster with posttraumatic stress disorder, feeling lower than ever, and was prescribed antidepressants by her GP.
“My friends said to me, ‘You look the same on the outside but it’s just your shell’. They said my personality was just totally different.”
She described feeling numb, losing all social awareness, gaining a lot of weight and being more depressed than before starting the medication.
“It impaired my ability to feel human and to really be present with people and pick up what they were saying.
“My relationships were hugely affected being on these medications, because I just wasn’t myself,” she said.
After taking 300mg of commonly prescribed venlafaxine every day for nearly seven years, Aitcheson said she had slowly been weaning herself off the drugs.
“Already I am feeling a lot more myself, being less medicated. Despite having depression, I’ve pushed myself to get a masters and bachelors degree and I think having those goals and people around to support me has been what’s helped get me out.”
Auckland psychiatrist David Codyre — who worked for more than 30 years in community mental health — said Aitcheson’s case was not uncommon.
“Anyone who has had depression triggered by an event like that, those are the people who really should be offered therapies over medication.”
Mental health advocate Mike King said many doctors felt the only option they had for people struggling with mental health problems was medication because of the excessive waiting lists for counselling.
“They know wait times are getting longer and longer. It’s not something that is going to be fixed overnight.
“We need a secondary service so
Our data from that showed that in time prescriptions [fell] dramatically.
Auckland psychiatrist David Codyre
when you come to the doctor with a mental health issue you’re not going straight into the system, because once you are into the mental health services you are automatically deemed to be unwell and that needs to change.”
Codyre said he had been working with Auckland DHB and Counties Manukau DHB, providing a mental health specialist in a community practice so patients were able to be seen on that day.
“Our data from that showed that in time prescriptions [fell] dramatically since having that integrated model of the practice, so there are solutions and we are now doing this in a second clinic in South Auckland.”
Codyre said he hoped more funding would be provided from the Government’s Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry to get similar initiatives off the ground.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson blamed the surge in antidepressants on people not having the funds to access counselling or other therapies.
The government inquiry into mental health and addiction will come to a head at the end of this month as the inquiry panel deliberates before reporting to Parliament.
Evie Aitcheson was medicated when suffering survivor guilt after being on the frontline of Japan’s 2011 tsunami.