Anti-depressant drug helps student cope with the blues

By Adrian R. Stewart

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Susan, a UA student, sat at home, worrying about her boyfriend who was supposed to ride his bike home when he was through with his rehearsal. When Susan called, he was not where he was supposed to be.

"I had a panic attack. I had this image stuck in my head of him lying by the side of the road on Speedway after a car hit him," she said. "I saw cars stopped and an ambulance and the lights.

"I built up this whole catastrophe in my mind and just freaked out," she said.

Her boyfriend was all right, but Susan (not her real name) knew something was wrong.

"I knew from the way I was talking on the phone and how scared I had gotten, that I needed some help," she said. "Also, I had depressions where I would just cry and cry and cry. I couldn't see the bright side of things. It was awful."

As a University of Arizona student, she went to Student Health and was diagnosed as clinically depressed. They provided her with off-campus counseling and Prozac.

"I've had a very good experience with Prozac," she said. "It doesn't automatically make you happy, it just makes it possible for you to be happy."

Prozac is an anti-depressant that increases the level of a brain chemical called serotonin. Low levels of serotonin in the brain have been clinically connected with depression, anxiety and emotional instability.

Susan said she has been taking the drug since 1993 but doesn't plan to continue with her daily treatment forever.

"I stopped taking it after the first year, but five months later I had more depressions so I went back on it," she said. "The doctors

tell me that eventually my brain will 'learn' how to do without the Prozac. I would rather not be on any drug, but it sure beats depression."

Susan is among the estimated 4.5 million Americans who have tried Prozac, a drug alternately called a "miracle" and a "curse."

Prozac's positive effect on brain chemistry was lauded in the bestselling book, Listening to Prozac, which called it a "bounty of science" capable of transforming people's personalities.

Media reports, however, have highlighted possible dangerous side-effects of the drug, including suicidal and/or violent behavior.

In the most-famous case, a man in Kentucky went on a killing spree in his former place of work after taking Prozac for a month. The victim's families sued Eli Lilly, Prozac's manufacturer, claiming that the anti-depressant had made the man do it.

Despite the negative publicity, Susan defends Prozac.

"Prozac is a drug. Prozac can help you, but it doesn't change you," she said. "But, I wouldn't call it a 'miracle drug.' I still get mad. I still cry. But, I don't have those awful depressions."

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