‘Years of med­i­cated hell’

Kiwi teacher shares her strug­gle as re­search re­veals 1 in 8 New Zealan­ders pre­scribed an­tide­pres­sants

The New Zealand Herald - - News - Emma Rus­sell health

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.

Photo / Doug Sher­ring

Evie Aitch­e­son was med­i­cated when suf­fer­ing sur­vivor guilt after be­ing on the front­line of Ja­pan’s 2011 tsunami.

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