UW Today

This is an archived article.

May 3, 2001

Not listening to Prozac: Puget Sound residents who took antidepressants sought for UW study

The names of Prozac, Zoloft and other drugs prescribed to relieve depression have become so commonplace that computer spell-check programs recognize them. These ubiquitous drugs have helped thousands of people deal with America’s most common mental health problem.

However, University of Washington researchers have found a small percentage of individuals who are outwardly helped by antidepressants but don’t consider the medication to be beneficial and refuse to take it even if their depression recurs.

“These people complain about subtle unspecified, un-uniform and unwanted side effects that are different from the known standard physical side effects,” said Robert Kohlenberg, UW associate professor of psychology

To find out more about these side effects and people’s perceptions about antidepressants, UW researchers want to interview at least 200 Puget Sound residents who have taken such medications as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox and Celexa.

Volunteers in the study must be 21 to 60 years old and be willing to participate in a confidential, approximately 30-minute telephone interview. They will be asked about their present or past medications, how long they have been taking medication, the results of taking it and if they would take it again.

“We want to know about the good, OK and bad experiences people have had with these drugs,” said Kohlenberg, “and we are particularly interested in talking to people who were helped by an antidepressant but have opted not to take it again.”

Documented physical side effects of taking these antidepressants include dizziness, headaches, nausea and sexual dysfunction.

In an ongoing drug-free depression study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Kohlenberg has found that some people once on antidepressants who had their symptoms alleviated without significant known side effects still complained about the medication, saying such things as:

“I’m not quite myself.”

“I’m smiling, but it’s not me.”

“I’ve lost my creativity.”

“I’m less irritable, but that was part of my personality.”

“My cat died and I didn’t cry.”

Kohlenberg said a literature search shows that 70 percent of people who are prescribed antidepressants stay on medication, are helped and feel satisfied with it. Fifteen percent stop because of physical side effects and 7 percent stop because medication didn’t help them. Another 8 percent stop for unspecified reasons, and these reasons may include subtle psychological side effects like those reported by subjects in his study who were helped but refused to take the medication again.

People who have questions or are interested in volunteering for the study should call (206) 685-2436.
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Reporters, for more information, contact Kohlenberg at (206) 543-9898 or fap@u.washington.edu