Letter: Prozac is not a fun drug

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IN HER column 'Fear and loathing and Prozac in SoHo' (Review, 21 August), Zoe Heller wrote about her depressed mood and her attempts to extricate herself from this by 'popping' two Prozac pills and going to a dinner party with fashionable art people in SoHo. She was as scathing about the people she joined for dinner as she was about the effects of Prozac, which I presume was the point of the article. While sympathetic to her mental state and her social observations, as a practising psychiatrist I am alarmed at the concept of this piece of writing as journalism.

Fluoxetine (generic name: Prozac is trade name) belongs to a family of compounds, the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which represent one of the few major breakthroughs in the treatment of psychiatric illness in the past 40 years. Many thousands of people suffering from depressive illness have agreed to participate in clinical drug trials that have demonstrated the efficacy of such drugs.

SSRIs have meant that the choice for those suffering from depression is no longer between despair or drugs that may render them partly dysfunctional. Suicide is one of the natural outcomes of untreated depression and SSRIs, in contrast to the older antidepressants, are safe in overdose. For those of us involved in treating depressive illness and preventing suicide, an article testing the fashionable American hypothesis of Prozac as recreational is a galling pill to swallow.

Veronica O'Keane

King's College London

London SE5