The gallon jug of Skyy Vodka tempted Camille Stallings many cold January nights. It always forced the same question: Should she take her antidepressant or down another shot? Miss Stallings drank.
Not once, or twice, but four times a week, until the 19-year-old from Idaho passed out and her 95-pound body slumped to the floor.
By age 20, Miss Stallings had stopped drinking and tried many medications: Paxil, Celexa, Wellbutrin. Everything numbed her. She says she often couldn’t laugh, couldn’t cry — not even when she broke up with her boyfriend.
“I want to feel again,” she decided, and she stopped taking her pills.
Miss Stallings is among the 18.8 million American adults who suffer from a depressive disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
She is one of many young people who aren’t using antidepressants to treat their ailments. The number of children taking such medications fell 18 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to a study by Medco Health Solutions.
The pharmacy benefit company reviewed its 10.1 million child patients and found that antidepressant usage dropped by 16 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, “traditionally the time of the year when antidepressant use peaks,” the study said.
Overall, Medco discovered that the use of these pills among young people has fallen by more than 10 percent in the past year.
Piribo, an online store for bio-pharmaceutical business information, expects antidepressant sales to drop even further to $13.5 billion by 2011 — a 21.5 percent decrease from 2004.
Popular culture has begun to reflect young people’s dissatisfaction with antidepressant drugs. In the 2004 movie “Garden State,” struggling actor Andrew Largeman stopped taking lithium to embrace reality — including its pain.
“I’m not gonna take those drugs anymore,” he told his psychiatrist father who prescribed the pills. “They just left me feeling numb.”
Miss Stallings, who experienced family tension and trauma during childhood, started Paxil at 16. She gained 30 pounds. Every time Miss Stallings tried to quit taking her pills, she got dizzy and almost passed out.
The depression remained. She tried Wellbutrin, but nothing changed except for her weight. Miss Stallings started purging after meals and withered to 95 pounds.
She tried Celexa. Still nothing. Only numbness.
“What the doctor put me through was just ridiculous,” Miss Stallings said. “And I don’t think that’s unusual. Pretty much all you have to do is say, ‘I struggle with anxiety,’ and they’ll prescribe you something.”
Although Miss Stallings quit taking her medication because she wanted to feel again, a fear of suicide might serve as another factor for why many young people aren’t taking their prescribed antidepressants.
The Food and Drug Administration issued a concern last year about an increased risk ofsuicidal thoughts and behavior in children and adolescents being treated with the pills.
More than 800,000 U.S. teens suffer from depression each year, and more than 500,000 make a suicide attempt requiring medical attention, Columbia University’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports.
A 2003 Columbia University poll of Washington-area parents showed that almost nine in 10 adults were concerned about depression in teens, and one-third worried that their child might think about or attempt suicide.
The FDA analyzed the effects of nine antidepressants and found that the rate of suicidal thinking or behavior was 4 percent for those taking the medications — twice the rate of those on inactive substances.
Although a fear of suicide might be causing some young people not to take their medication, others, including Miss Stallings, just wanted to quit.
“They never took care of the root problem of my depression,” she said.
Today, at age 24, Miss Stallings still struggles with sadness, but the depression that used to haunt her has faded since she started seeing a counselor. So has her confidence in medication.
“It’s like putting a Band-Aid over a huge cut,” Miss Stallings said.
Not everyone her age agrees.
Chris Duplisea, a 23-year-old elementary school teacher in Maryland, found antidepressants liberating. After moving 12 times in the past year and breaking up with his girlfriend in February, Mr. Duplisea became so anxious and depressed that he was unable to give simple spelling tests or make photocopies of class assignments.
He couldn’t even eat.
“You just want to tear yourself out of your skin,” he said, describing his anxiety attacks. “You just want to run and scream.”
Sometimes, Mr. Duplisea found enough energy to nibble on a package of cheese crackers and peanut butter that sat on his desk at school. But that was a good day.
Mr. Duplisea decided in March to see a psychiatrist. He didn’t know what to expect.
“I didn’t know if I’d walk in there and see people drooling, whacking their heads off the wall,” he said. “You think of psychiatrists, and you think of wackos … a mental ward. [But] when I got in there, and it was a bunch of normal people in there, it was OK.”
His psychiatrist prescribed Lexapro, which made an immediate difference.
“A lot of what these medicines do is they just put your feet on the ground,” Mr. Duplisea said. “It clears your mind enough so you can start thinking normally again to fix the problem.”
But Mr. Duplisea, who still takes one Lexapro tablet each morning, said the hardest part was admitting that he needed help from a pill, not just God.
“Sometimes, that’s what you need,” he said. “It can be you, God — and your psychiatrist’s drugs. … So often we pray, ‘Lord, get me out of this,’ when we really need to pray, ‘Lord, help me get through this.’”
Such spiritual questions were also an issue for Miss Stallings.
“Depression is not a sign of spiritual immaturity,” she said. “It’s part of being human.”
Miss Stallings likened the disorder to a normal woman who loses her husband and becomes depressed for a couple of years. It would be a misinterpretation of Romans 8:28, Miss Stallings said, to call that woman spiritually immature just because she can’t say at the moment, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.”
“It doesn’t recognize humanity,” Miss Stallings said. “The range of emotions are indicator lights for what’s going on in your life.”