My mother took her life five years ago after struggling with depression and taking anti-depressants. She jumped from a fifth story rooftop. I knew that she wanted to kill herself, but I did not think it would happen that way.
Recently, a friend of mine’s mother took her life after struggling with depression and taking anti-depressants. Her story was remarkably like my mother’s.
Depression can lead to suicide. I want to let you know that anti-depressants can accelerate that.
There were two calls that changed my life.
The first came in the morning as I arrived at work. My father called with my mother from his car to say that she had been diagnosed with a very large brain tumor and the doctors wanted her to go to the hospital straight away. I immediately went home, packed my bags and headed to the airport on the next flight to Madrid.
The second call came from my father at five in the morning. Before I picked up the phone, I new that my mother had died. My father never called me at five in the morning. Once again, I packed my bags and immediately went to the airport on the first flight to Madrid. The only ticket I could get was a first class ticket, so I sat in the first class lounge, trying not to cry and make everyone else uncomfortable.
Between those two calls, my father and I did everything that we could to help my mother.
The night before her operation, the surgeon told us what he would do and how he would get rid of her tumor. It was benign, but it had grown slowly for years between the hemispheres of her brain, and it was the size of an orange, pressuring her brain. He told us, “Your mother will likely not be the same person after the operation. She’ll have to recover her skills and may need to learn to read and write again.”
We ignored him. We were optimists, we were fighters, and she was going to get better.
The doctor was correct, and, if anything, he understated her problems. My mother had derived so much joy from reading novels and books and writing to her family and friends all of her life. From one day to the next, she had to learn to read, write and speak again.
My mother struggled to read more than a few words, and she could barely write her name without much effort. Her speech was clipped and short, and she struggled to say everyday words. Her mental faculties were not at all impaired, as any conversation with her showed that she not only followed everything everyone was saying, but if you were patient and let her speak, she was her old self and could still offer wise insights and advice. She enjoyed movies and television, as she didn’t have to read to get the plots.
Every day my father and mother worked on her handwriting and reading, but she struggled to read anything longer than a newspaper article. Before the operation, she read Emma, War and Peace and books of poetry. Afterwards, she read glossy magazines with short articles. I knew she hated it.
My mother was a strong woman who had suffered more burdens than most can bear in life, and I thought she was more than a match for her struggle. She had lost her youngest son, my brother Timothy, in a car accident when he was nine years old. She had lost over thirty friends to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. My high school memories are of taking breaks from economics homework to visit friends in the infectious diseases ward of Ramón y Cajal Hospital with my mother. She was the one who gave strength to others.
After her operation, I don’t know if she gave up or her brain simply couldn’t recover its old state. She became depressed, and slept too much. She would lie on the sofa and did not want to go out and see people. When she did go out, she was like the Queen of England, smiling, greeting people and not showing any signs of her pain. Few knew she was suffering privately.
My father took her to doctors, who within a few minutes put her on anti-depressants. The psychiatrist told us that taking anti-depressants would be a temporary step, they would help her and she would go back to her old happy self. We did not think much of it, but it was the beginning of the end.
My mother would get antsy if she had too much coffee, and she didn’t like alcohol either. I can’t imagine how anti-depressants made her feel. As soon as she started on the anti-depressants, she started complaining that she felt like she was crawling out of her skin. Those are her words, not mine.
Moments of panic alternated with states of calm. The mornings were the worst, and after dinner she was usually at her best. When she was calm, it was like she was her old self. I once recorded a video of a panic attack on my iPhone to show it to her when she was calm. She seemed astonished to see herself.
In the video, my mother was shaking violently, “Something is very wrong… very wrong. Something is not working. You don’t understand. Something is going haywire inside my head. This has got to stop. You’re going to have to put me to sleep. I can’t take this.”
My father and I wanted to help her get off her anti-depressants, but taking her off them gave her withdrawal symptoms, and my mother felt guilty not listening to the doctor and taking her medicine. We asked for different medicines, but none seemed to improve her condition. My mother spent her life helping people get off heroin, and we couldn’t get her off her anti-depressants.
As her panic attacks and shaking got worse, she started speaking of committing suicide. She tried to take too many pills, but they just made her vomit and wouldn’t have killed her. She tried other methods, but they seemed more like a desperate cry for help than any well-thought out plan. My father and her friends were always around to look after her. We thought we had the odds on our side.
A few weeks before she died, I realized that it was likely she would kill herself and there was nothing that my father or I could do to stop her. The math was not in our favor. We could stop her from taking pills 999 times, but all she needed to do was succeed once. We could not watch her twenty-four hours a day, and all she needed was some time by herself. I hoped I was wrong.
My father called me early in the morning. My mother had walked to the roof of their apartment building and jumped. My father woke up and she was not in her bed. He went looking for her and was walking up the stairwell when she jumped.
It was only after my mother’s death that I started researching the role of anti-depressants and suicide. The evidence is overwhelming that SSRIs, the most popular anti-depressants lead to “paradoxical” reactions. They cause the very thing they are trying to prevent. It is almost impossible to believe, but anti-depressants increase your chance of suicide.
The very best book to read on anti-depressants is The Emperor’s New Drugs. If you or anyone you know is taking anti-depressants or thinking of doing so, you should read it.
The book is about anti-depressants, but most of the book deals with the central issue of placebos in medicine and anti-depressants. Some things are not helped by placebos, for example, a broken leg or schizophrenia do not get better with a sugar pill. However, other things very definitely are, such as pain management for broken legs and depression.
The key conclusion from the book is that anti-depressants do work and help many people, but primarily because of the placebo effect. They’re no better than placebos.
If anti-depressants were simply placebos, then who cares? You might say, “People are paying a lot of money to Big Pharma, but at least they’re getting better.”
The problem is that anti-depressants are often much worse. Placebos have no side effects, whereas anti-depressants often have paradoxical effects, such as increased chances of suicide or violence. SSRIs are the worst. Young people are more likely statistically to commit suicide if they take them, and they’re much more likely to act out violently like kill classmates. A high proportion of kids involved in school shootings are on SSRIs.
The book explains that there are a few key insights regarding placebos.
– The more you are aware of something, the more likely it is to work. So an inert placebo has less effect than one that induces a sensation of warmth, for example. The start of placebo studied began when Henry Beecher, a doctor in World War II, injected salt water into soldiers to operate on them, as he had run out of morphine. The soldiers felt a powerful feeling, and doctors were even able to cut off limbs as they talked to the patient.
– The more elaborate the administering of the placebo, the greater the effect. This is why bedside manner is so important for doctors.
– The more aware people are that they are taking something that will help them; the more likely it will help them. You will likely experience the symptoms/benefits a doctor tells you that you will feel. This also leads to the nocebo effect. You can take inert pills that will harm you, if you are told they will induce bad side effects.
Almost all anti-depressants work because people think they will work. The doctors administering them tell the patients the drugs will help. The pills give patients side effects, signaling that something is working in their body.
As I was reading the book, I had to put it down and stop reading. The memory of my mother’s panic attacks came back to me. This passage from the book perfectly fits what my mother described feeling to me.
Suicidal thoughts are one of the symptoms of depression. Paradoxically, one of the best-publicized dangers of SSRIs is their potential to increase the risk of suicide. This heightened risk is especially well established for children, adolescents and young adults. In their most recent analysis of the data, the FDA concluded that, when compared to placebos, SSRIs double the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour in depressed patients up to the age of 24.7 There also seems to be an increased risk for people who are older than 24, but the interpretation of these data is still disputed. 8
Not only has the connection between SSRIs and suicide been well established, but we also have some idea how SSRIs might produce this increased risk. The American psychiatrist Peter Breggin has documented how SSRIs can provoke an agitated, restless state called akathisia, which some people describe as feeling like jumping out of their skin.9 It is often in this state that people on SSRIs become violent and aggressive towards themselves or others. [Emphasis added]
I first learned of the akathisia connection on 2 February 2004, at the FDA hearing that resulted in the addition of the ‘black box’ warning to SSRI labelling information. Along with my colleague David Antonuccio, I had been invited to testify at the hearing about the efficacy – or lack of efficacy – of SSRIs as a treatment for childhood depression. It was there that I first heard the heart-wrenching stories of parents whose children had committed suicide, of a 12-year-old boy who had murdered his grandparents with a shotgun, and of a woman who had shot her jaw off while taking SSRIs. It was also at that hearing that I first learned of the clinical studies in which akathisia was turned on and off by Prozac. In one of these studies, three patients, aged 25– 47 years, who had attempted suicide while on Prozac and then been taken off of the drug, were given Prozac again to see what would happen. All three of them developed severe akathisia and reported feeling suicidal again. The manic feelings subsided, as did their suicidal thoughts, when the drug was discontinued again. 10
Kirsch, Irving. The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth (pp. 151-152). Random House. Kindle Edition.
I shared this passage with a friend when we were discussing placebos, and he told me that his mother also committed suicide. She too had an operation, and struggled with her recovery. Doctors prescribed SSRIs, and she committed suicide. That was the conversation that led me to write this blog post.
It has taken me a long time to write this blog post. Everyone suffers from pain in their lives, and if they don’t, they haven’t lived long enough yet. My story is not unique, and the world does not have a desperate need to know the details of my suffering.
The reason I am writing it is I hope my experience might help others, inform them and lead them to make better choices for themselves and their loved ones. I am writing this blog post because I hope it will highlight the dangers of anti-depressants.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my mother and wish she were with me. I know my friend wishes his mother were still here. Many days, though, I try not to think of her. It is too painful. I cry remembering her, and nothing changes. So I push her memory away.
The day after my mother died, I sent an email to friends:
My wonderful mother Mary Tepper 1944-2012
My mother took her life early Tuesday morning. She had major brain surgery three years ago. The operation affected her speech, her reading, and she developed very bad tremors. She struggled with clinical depression for a while after the operation. She suffered a great deal, and now she is suffering no more.
I hope people will remember what a wonderful woman she was all of her life. I never met a kinder, gentler, more selfless person. She helped start Betel with my father. It started in my parents’ living room in 1985, and now has almost 2,300 addicts living in the program in over 20 countries around the world. It has been going for over 25 years and has helped hundreds of thousands of people. My mother was a saint, if ever there was one.
I’ve attached a picture of the drug center in its early days in 1985.
Here is an article about my parents from my mother’s home town newspaper. link
I want to remember my mother as she was all her life. She was happy, loving, kind and made everyone around her better. She was a mother to the men and women in the drug rehab center. When she died 1,500 people packed into the church to attend her memorial service, and the drug rehab center streamed it live for those who couldn’t come. Over a thousand people logged in to watch the service around the world. She had touched more lives than she ever knew.
I don’t want to push my mother’s memory away because it is painful.
I don’t want to see other young men and women commit suicide due to anti-depressants, or sons and daughters get a phone call early in the morning.
If you can, please read The Emperor’s New Drugs, and give it to a friend. Consider that the very best alternatives to depression are not an easy prescription of anti-depressants. Studies show that physical exercise coupled with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy beats other treatments. The side effects are better health, not suicide.
If you still want to take anti-depressants or give them to your loved ones, at least be informed of the risks and consider my experience.