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The Peterborough Telegraph
By Maria Thompson
Wednesday 06 June 2007 Last Updated: 06 June 2007
Maria Thompson spoke to one woman whose life spiralled out of control thanks, in part, to anti-depressants. Karen Ferris said Prozac made her horrible to everyone she loved – even her children – but since she has been free from the drug she has regained control of her life.
FIFTEEN years ago Karen Ferris had it all. She was a successful business woman with two thriving hair salons in Peterborough, a beauticians, an active social life and a happy marriage to boot.
Living life to the max she was working hard and partying hard but Karen threw it all away with her passion for ‘the hedonistic lifestyle’ and all that comes with it.
More than a decade of celebrity functions, award nights, social events and drinking to excess led to her downfall and her body eventually said ‘no’.
She became an alcoholic, suffered a nervous breakdown, and all the trauma and stigma associated with mental health issues, only to wind up a few years later dependant on anti-depressants.
It was a dark time and not something Karen, 42, likes to dwell on, having successfully detoxed and got her life back on track, but she is keen to tell the community about her experiences in the hope of preventing others going down the same route.
Karen, of Tallington, said: “I worked hard and I partied hard. Because I only drank at nights and at weekends I didn’t think I had a problem. “I used to go out every Friday and Saturday night and I just didn’t know when to stop, I would literally pass out, throw up and get back up again and carry on drinking.
“An alcoholic in my eyes was someone who started the day putting vodka on their cornflakes, but that’s not the case.
“An alcoholic is someone who doesn’t know when to stop. And alcohol is a depressant.”
However, worse was still to come for the award-winning hairdresser, who started up Tufty’s and Tufty’s Too hair salons in Peterborough.
After being free from alcohol for some time, Karen and her partner started trying for a family – eventually having two daughters. After becoming pregnant with her second child Karen’s partner encouraged her to give up work and stay at home.
She said: “My business was my life and I hate to hear myself moaning about it, because so many women would have loved to have been able to give up work and look after the children, but it made me so unhappy. “My partner said what’s the point of having two stressed out people in the house? He encouraged me to sell the business and become a full-time mum.
“Basically when I did, my whole world caved in. I was a business person, people said I was very lucky but at the end of the day you are what you are.
“I started suffering from depression and went to my doctor who put me on Prozac.”
Prozac, which is a trade name for the anti-depressant drug Fluoxetine, is generally prescribed to people with moderate depression.
Karen doesn’t know why she was put on Prozac, rather than given counselling or another drug, and she accepts that for some people it can do wonders, but for her it marked the start of a six-year downward spiral in which she lost her husband, her dignity and nearly her children.
Karen said: “Basically it ruined my life. When I was on it I started craving alcohol again. You lose your feeling, your essence, your sex drive, everything goes and if you have a glass of wine it’s like you have had three.
“I know what people will be thinking and I know I’m the one that had a drink, you can’t blame the drug for that.
“But in the last two months since I’ve been off it I’ve achieved more than I have ever done in the past six years.
“I made some silly decisions and I’m not saying it’s the Prozac’s fault, but I thought I was alright on it and instead I was just burying my problems.”
Karen tells her story today because she fears people see medication as a quick fix to their problems rather than facing up to things.
She said: “I think it’s almost become hip with words like rehab being used and people talking about it all the time. Yet I read articles about women who say their lives were nearly destroyed by anti-depressants – and mine was.”
The exact number of people taking pills for depression is not known but it is likely to be in the thousands, with many taking medication over long periods with repeat prescriptions.
The most common drugs used are known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – which includes Prozac – generally the most effective.
But guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in 2004 recommended they are only used to treat moderate depression or when other treatments such as counselling have not been effective.
Clare Gaskell, chief pharmacist for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Trust, could not comment on Karen’s case but recognised that there are dangers for anyone who sees taking tablets as a quick fix to their problems.
She said: “In terms of mild depression it’s clear medicines are not the first thing to use. Self help, exercise and counselling are more appropriate.
“I would also like to get across that there are very few people who take anti-depressants for a long time because the health guidance says people should only be on it for a short time – although every case is different.”
In fact, the NICE guidance used by GPs states that people who are prescribed anti-depressants like Fluoxetine should be re-assessed at least every six months.
But each individual is different and Karen does not blame her doctor, only herself for not addressing the problem sooner.
She said: “It makes you argumentative and horrible to the people you love – even your children.
“I was living a pity party full of anger and resentment.”
It was only after a severe relapse in her mental stability that she sought help and was immediately advised to stop taking the Prozac.
Karen was put on different medication to prevent any side effects and is eternally grateful to the doctors and medical staff who helped her out of the hole she was sinking back into.
Without their help she would still be taking the drug.
She said: “It’s only two-and-a-half months in and I’m still very emotional. I don’t feel euphoric. I just have feelings which I haven’t had for so long.
“Since I have been on this new treatment programme I have felt level and I’m very emotional, but I think that’s because I’m dealing with my issues without any crutch now.”
In a recent report carried out by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy it was found that depression and/or anxiety touches the lives of almost everyone at some point, with 66 per cent of the national representative having already experienced it.
And while the majority said their bouts were mild, 17 per cent had been to see their doctor about their symptoms and nine per cent had been referred to a specialist or a therapist.
What is even more alarming is that 86 per cent of those asked say they have either had more than one period of depression or that it is something that reoccurs or is ongoing.
However, Karen’s bravery in telling her story shows there is hope for everyone. To find out more about depression and getting the right treatment, NICE has also produced a booklet offering advice to patients. Just go to www.nice.org and follow the links for depression.