Anxiety therapy for the high roller crowd
January 4, 2012 5:35 AM   Subscribe

Are there examples of 'high end' people who have successfully used anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications?

I need positive anecdotes of successful people that have taken drugs to treat behavioral disorders. This is to make me feel more comfortable about the drug that I just took. It's called cymbalta, and it was prescribed to me for my increasingly unmanageable anxiety and depression.

Everyone seems to have negative opinions, and I need some positive ones to balance it out. My dad thinks that the drugs were invented to keep the working classes more productive and docile. My friends think that no one really knows how they work, and that they cause permanent changes in the brain. The anecdotes online all seem to point toward massive side effects and hellish withdrawal.

But, the rationalist inside me says that the drug had to have gotten though clinical trials. It can't be that bad. And, of course people with anxiety will post anxious messages online.

Anyway, do the rich / powerful / successful use these drugs? Or, do they use other types of therapies?

Are there notable success stories ( e.g. So and so took drug x and was able to finish their novel, etc.)?

Thanks for the help.
posted by TheOtherSide to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
You're absolutely correct. Medications are helpful for many people, and many of those are successful and powerful and rich. Because there is still stigma associated with mental illness, and hence with the medications used for treatment, those stories might be harder to find, but they are certainly there.

One high profile user of psychiatric medications is Kay Redfield Jamison, who's a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, and the author of several books, including her memoir An Unquiet Mind. (She has bipolar disorder.)
posted by OmieWise at 5:41 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

David Foster Wallace was on the powerful antidepressant Nardil for decades, during which he wrote some of the most acclaimed and popular literary novels of the era.
posted by escabeche at 5:43 AM on January 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

The answer is "far more than you know." Most people are not forthcoming about private medical issues, let alone (due to persistent, stupid stigma) their dependence on psychotropic medicines. But as someone fairly successful in my field (does he or doesn't he?) I can assure you that a majority of my colleagues -- and that includes many far more successful than me -- are utterly reliant on their meds and would have had terrible careers without them.
posted by spitbull at 5:46 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think one of Bob Woodward's books (I forget which) describes basically the entire Bush cabinet as being on Ambien.

But like the DFW item above, I'm not sure if this is the kind of role model you're looking for.
posted by rokusan at 5:54 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Both Brooke Shields and Terry Bradshaw used medications to cope with issues of depression. I would consider them to be both talented and successful. I am sure there are many others (including some on this list), but many do not list specific medication usage.
posted by maxg94 at 5:59 AM on January 4, 2012

For your particular particulars, my answer is kind of a mixed bag. Yes, many successful people use anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressants, etc, although I can't think of a Cymbalta-specific example. Most famous people that come to mind use benzodiazepines, but certainly some must take Cymbalta. However, Cymbalta does seem to really fuck with a lot of people -- everyone I've ever known who has taken it hated it -- but it also works for some people. Your father is ignorant (no offensive, I mean that in the literal lacks-knowledge sense, no judgment). Your friend is actually right that a lot of the mechanisms by which these drugs work are not well understood, and yes there could be permanent changes to the brain, but those fears should not keep you from using a drug that improves your quality of life. You are correct that these drugs got through trials, but whether that's terribly meaningful, well... the pharmaceutical industry is sometimes shady, and clinical trials and papers are very often fudged and sometimes fabricated, and there are probably more instances that have not yet been discovered and probably won't be. Read the book White Coat, Black Hat for a ton of information on that.

I realize that's not terribly comforting, especially to someone who has anxiety. So here is what you do, in practice: you try something, and if you hate it, you stop and try another class of drugs. You may have temporary withdrawal issues from some classes of drugs, but you get through it. Some drugs are older and more established than others and have fewer side effects.

I was nervous about taking ADHD medication, so I feel you there. I calmed myself my acknowledging beforehand that I may have to try several kinds, and that I would probably not be any on one very long if it had awful side effects, so there would be little time to do permanent damage. The first one I tried was Adderall, worked like a charm, zero side effects, huge improvement in quality of life. It doesn't work so well for everyone, but that's how medications are: you have to try them to know.
posted by Nattie at 6:03 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was on Prozac (for depression, not anxiety) a decade ago, a fact which means no more or less to me than that I was on Prilosec to treat acid reflux. As a result, others who have taken antidepressants have confided to me about their experiences, and those people have had powerful jobs at institutions ranging from the top technology companies in the world to the biggest media companies to the pinnacles of political office in the U.S.

It's not my place to talk about it publicly if they haven't yet, but rest assured, we're out here in big numbers, not any more plagued by lack of creativity or crippling drug dependence than we would be by taking medicine for any other illness.

Don't let your family make your illness, treatment and medication regimen somehow be stigmatized simply because it's for an emotional disorder instead of a physical one. Diabetes could be described as a chemical imbalance, and so can anxiety, and arguably so could my acid reflux. Nobody would say "leave reflux dangerously untreated so that your stomach isn't tamed into being a working-class drone stomach!" More usefully, if your dad is that class-conscious, point out that his attitudes about seeing mental illness as magically different than physical ones, and his willingness to leave a serious illness untreated because of an unscientific bias against its treatments, are in fact the hallmarks that he is not of the upper/ruling class. Because trust me: Rich, powerful folks get whatever it takes for them to feel healthy and productive all the time.
posted by anildash at 6:06 AM on January 4, 2012 [32 favorites]

Oh, for what it's worth, I usually hear of famous people as taking Wellbutrin, and the people I know who tried it love it. (Lev Grossman, one of my favorite authors, is one.) And I usually hear about famous being taking Xanax in particular for anxiety. No clue why except they purport fewer side effects compared to other things they have tried. A shitton of famous people take Adderall and Ritalin, if you want to count those as anti-depressants (there are some similarities and many people have mild mood elevation on them).

Honestly, pick up the biography of any famous writer in the past couple centuries and they were likely on some kind of mood-altering drug, especially amphetamines. I dislike the romanticization of such things, but many writers have outright attributed their success to mood-altering drugs (not outright narcotics, but sometimes). I hear of this too in the art world. Whenever I read self-help books or articles or blogs a ton of famous people literally say they could not have achieved their success without their anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drug; I apologize for not having many specific names right now, but this had been so evident to me that I never considered it noteworthy to remember the names. It really is that widespread, if that helps.
posted by Nattie at 6:12 AM on January 4, 2012

Shewin Neuland gave a TED talk on his recovery from severe depression, which included ECT (an order of magnitude more stigmatizing and potentially crippling than a modern antidepressant).
posted by availablelight at 6:15 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Here's the thing: an aggregate problem still has individual solutions.

In some ways, I think your father is right: ie, we live in a depressing society where a lot of the things that humans need - a community, strong connections with others, stable sources of food and shelter, easy access to exercise, the ability to contribute positively to your community - where those things are rationed or unavailable to working people because they cut into the profit and power of the wealthy. We also live in a really racist, patriarchal and homophobic society where basically if you're not a successful, gender-conforming white straight dude you get a lot of extra stress and negative messages that affect health. So yeah, the drugs are sort of there because it's impossible to provide the kind of society that would dramatically cut down on depression, and because the drugs bring in a lot of money. But that doesn't mean the drugs don't work!

And that's the aggregate problem. You are an individual in need of a solution. You have one lifetime. Your circumstances are highly individual and you/your doctor have decided that meds are the best available route for you in the actually-existing world. You can be fiercely critical of the medical-industrial complex while still feeling that a specific medication in your specific case is the best available route for you.
posted by Frowner at 6:17 AM on January 4, 2012 [18 favorites]

My dad thinks that the drugs were invented to keep the working classes more productive and docile.
That doesn't make a ton of sense in the US context, because the working classes have considerably less access to anti-depressants than middle-class-and-above people do. There's not a lot of money to be made marketing expensive drugs to people who don't have health insurance with good drug coverage. If I were looking for a class-related stereotype about anti-depressants, I would go with "crutch for the rich", rather than "way of making working-class people docile"!

It's hard to find anecdotes of successful people taking anti-depressants, because there's still a fair amount of stigma, especially for men. If Brian Williams is on Prozac, he's probably not going to tell anyone. I can tell you that when my mom finally agreed to try anti-depressants, it saved my parents' marriage and possibly her life. I no longer worry that I'm going to hear that she's killed herself every time my parents' number pops up on my caller ID. It was a really hard step for her to take, and it took a lot of courage for her to do it. I'm really grateful to her for overcoming her resistance, because its improved the lives of her and everyone who loves her.
posted by craichead at 6:23 AM on January 4, 2012 [10 favorites]

More usefully, if your dad is that class-conscious, point out that his attitudes about seeing mental illness as magically different than physical ones, and his willingness to leave a serious illness untreated because of an unscientific bias against its treatments, are in fact the hallmarks that he is not of the upper/ruling class. Because trust me: Rich, powerful folks get whatever it takes for them to feel healthy and productive all the time.

This bears repeating. The idea that people get by without any help and to do otherwise is shameful is very much a working class idea. Rich people do not think that way at all; they take advantage of whatever resources are available to them, and failure to do so (not just with medication, with anything) is seen as a lack of initiative and rather foolish. If you feel anxious and you have a way to stop feeling anxious and you choose not to do so for your father's reasoning, some wealthy people would see that kind of misplaced pride as a reason you (or your father, or whoever) weren't further "ahead" in life. I grew up poor and now have a comfortable life style, and that self-reliance and pride thing is a huge difference in how the working class views things. Also, I know fewer people who aren't on something than those who are. It doesn't then follow that there may not be other reasons not to take a medication, but your father's reasoning doesn't have any basis in reality on any level I can see. Don't let him make you feel bad about trying to make your life better for yourself.
posted by Nattie at 6:25 AM on January 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

A bit of Googling came up with this - don't know if it would be of any use?

In addition, Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's controversial and outspoken Director for Communications has been very open about his problems with depression and alcoholism.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 6:26 AM on January 4, 2012

Hey, in defense of my dad, he isn't talking about the working class ('blue collars'). He's talking about the supposed scores of white collar people who need drugs to be 'productive members of society'. I think his view is that anxiety / depression are caused by meaningless over work and status anxiety. And, his remedy to me for my issue is that I should avoid the environment that is making me sick. Meaning: quit working, stop the Internet, and go out into the country more often. He's not an ignorant person, he just has unconventional beliefs. And, I kinda like his view. But, it's not realistic for me at the moment (or ever?).

I would guess that my dad would think blue collar folk self medicate with weed, alcohol, etc. but, that's me speculating.
posted by TheOtherSide at 6:32 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sarah Silverman has not been quiet about her use of Zoloft to treat depression.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:38 AM on January 4, 2012

Meaning: quit working, stop the Internet, and go out into the country more often.
There's a lot to be said for that, but I don't think it's an either/or. And I think that it's tough to do that stuff when you're depressed, because depression takes away the energy you need to do things like exercise or go to the country. So what if you tried it both your dad's way and the doctors' way at the same time?

I'm not sure that powerful/ successful people generally spend a lot of time out in the country, not-working, though!
posted by craichead at 6:42 AM on January 4, 2012

With the greatest and most sincere respect to your dad, anxiety and depression are going to be triggered by a vast number of different things - basically, by as many different things or combination of things as there are depressed people. It's an outcome of broken brain chemistry, not so much as the result of a lifestyle choice as he seems to be thinking. And even if people's depression is caused in part by the situational pressures they find themselves under, it doesn't mean that a) their feelings are any less real and b) they will overcome these feelings just through changing their situation - if you like, the damage will have been done by that stage and the imbalance already created. You wouldn't expect a broken leg that hadn't been reset to heal up and work nearly as well as one that had been treated before it mended.

My last but one bout of depression was caused by the untimely and somewhat unexpected death of my mom a few years back. I would have done anything to have "...avoided the environment" in that case. Instead, Citalopram helped me get my head straight and let me function and feel like me again. Why would anyone, famous or not, want to put off feeling better or make things harder than they need to be?
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 6:46 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is a a list of famous people who suffered from depression. Among those who are listed as taking anti-depressants: Mike Wallace, Jim Carrey, Lorraine Bracco, Rosie O’Donnell, Roseanne Barr, Sheryl Crow, Terry Bradshaw, Tipper Gore, Kitty Dukakis.
posted by ManInSuit at 6:51 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Having similarly struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life, but also being leery of drugs I understand your hesitancy to go for a drug induce change. I must admit that I think Nattie's points are entirely valid as well. Go for change and if it works then great, if not then, try something else. The key being to keep trying.

My struggle opened up dramatically when I admitted to myself that a cure was not possible, but acceptance was. I'll always have to fight with it, and that means I had to change my life to do so, but it meant I wasn't constantly jumping from one "cure" to the next and focusing more systemic change in my life.

Along this line, I have to recommend yoga and meditation (Or Tai Chi, or Kung Fu, or rock climbing, or some disciplined art that links the mind and body) as PART of the toolset (not the cure mind you). There's a distinct need to become somatically aware (i.e. aware of the body) focusing inward before you can focus outward.

This does several things. First it allows you become more aware of how you feel by forcing you to take regular stock of how you feel and what you are feeling. Having a baseline to work from.

Second it helps you stop thinking, quelling the mind of both the anxiety and the stress by age old techniques. This can help in addition to other tools in your tool box (such as medication, counseling, or etc).

Third it helps develop your physical health, which is a key to reducing depression. (If you haven't notice, when you are physically sick you are more prone to irritability and other depressive symptoms).
posted by wonderfullyrich at 6:53 AM on January 4, 2012

He's talking about the supposed scores of white collar people who need drugs to be 'productive members of society'.

If true, doesn't that answer your question your question in the affirmative? It means that lots of white collar people are living productive lives as successful professionals thanks to the use of anti-depressants.

(honestly, it would be nice if more people not from the entertainment industry would be up front about this)
posted by deanc at 6:58 AM on January 4, 2012

Check your memail.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:02 AM on January 4, 2012

William Styron is the award-winning author of Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice, and Darkness Visible. The latter is a memoir of depression. Thomas Eagleton was a Senator nominated for Vice President who left the ticket when his treatment for depression was publicized.

Because of the stigma and discrimination your Dad displays, many people won't talk about depression. And, many people have diabetes, psoriasis, heart defects, etc., and simply don't choose to share their medical details with the world. So, deciding about your health care based on the health care records of famous people - not so great an idea.

You have an actual illness. The good news - there's an affordable, low-side-effect, effective treatment. Lots of people take anti-depressants. Your Dad can 'tut-tut' or you can be thankful that people have alternatives to pain and misery. For every time a doctor hands out an anti-depressant without taking the time to talk to a patient at length about their life, there's a person who steps back from the brink of suicide because they got the right anti-depressant and therapy. If you've ever thought depression was not a real illness, please understand that depression is an illness that is often terminal. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 34,598 deaths. The overall rate was 11.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. Know anybody with a parent, child, family member of friend who killed themselves? The survivors are devastated, too. Want to understand suicide a little better? Read this.

If you take drugs to make your life work when "trying harder" doesn't work, then don't take any crap from people who don't get it. And if you need drugs to keep from self-harm, or to function in this new world, don't feel shame, be happy that you have tools to use, and give that prescription a try. Disclaimer: I posted some of this before, but felt it was worth repeating.
posted by theora55 at 7:25 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Here's a piece about sportspeople suffering from depression. Whether this involves medication I don't know - chances are that the tiredness and weight-gain many experience on these meds don't work well with an athletic career - but there are examples of people outwith the creative industries.
posted by mippy at 7:29 AM on January 4, 2012

Maninsuit beat me to Mike Wallace
posted by timsteil at 7:48 AM on January 4, 2012

I don't know if you'd consider my friends successful, but they'd largely categorize themselves that way - they have jobs the like, good relationships, happy families, and good quality of life. And at Least half of the ones that I've talked with about mental health have been on some kind of pharmaceutical and found it incredibly helpful.

Some of this cultural - I came from the midwestern US, where it wasn't talked about. Here in the big cities of the East it seems far less stigmatized, and the people I know who've gotten treatment have all been happier for it, even when that meant cycling through a Lot of different meds. So just because people don't talk about their meds doesn't mean that meds aren't helping a lot of successful, rich, and fabulous people.
posted by ldthomps at 8:17 AM on January 4, 2012

Also, Andrew Solomon is pretty rich/posh/leisure class--and his dad used that wealth/influence to get him (and others) access to a drug licenced only in Europe at the time.
posted by availablelight at 8:39 AM on January 4, 2012

Musician Mike Doughty (who is probably not rich, but whom I would likely describe as successful) not only takes Cymbalta for depression, but used it as a musical instrument, so I guess it's improving his musical productivity all around.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:43 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdote from personal experience, not of Executive Class individuals.

My wife has anxiety that peaked in a nasty bout of panic attacks that struck when she was waking up from a nap. Her heart raced and she thought she was dying, but she'd be able to relax a bit more, only to have her heart race again, and her concerns of impending death to return. After a trip to ER and some anxiety medication, and she had to face her family and friends, some who had similar views to your father.

But the more she talked to friends, the more she heard about friends who were on similar or the same medication has her. In fact, it seemed that the majority of one friend-group were on similar medications. They all seem like well-balanced and happy people, but that was thanks in part to medications.

In short: talk to more people, and you're bound to find people you know, love and trust who use anti-anxiety medication. It might mean more for you and your father to actually know the people who use medications, because you know how they are on a day-to-day basis, moreso than the rich and famous.

And if anyone ever says "it's all in your head," you can say "of course it is, but I can't control this now any more than you can control how alcohol and coffee change you." Over time, you might be able to regain control of your anxiety triggers, but medication can make that effort possible.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:08 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a book called Threads of Hope which has lots of short accounts by famous and non-famous people about their depression. It's a UK publication so they might not be famous to you (though it includes Alastair Campbell, as mentioned above).

I also recommend it because it is made up of short pieces, which are easily-digestible when you're feeling bad. (Sorry, am on my phone so no link, but it's edited by Flora O'Connell or Donnell I think).
posted by penguin pie at 10:07 AM on January 4, 2012

Amanda Seyfried has been quite open about her anxiety attacks, and her usage of Lexapro. She doesn't seem thrilled about it (citing that it makes her tired all the time), but she seems to prefer taking the medicine to suffering from her anxiety disorder.
posted by Coatlicue at 11:09 AM on January 4, 2012

I don't have famous examples other than the ones already mentioned (except that I would heartily echo the recommendations for Kay Redfield Jamison's work). I can offer examples of high functioning not-famous people who take antidepressants: myself and my mother. Antidepressants and therapy helped me move from being an unemployed, depressed twentysomething to being, at 36, in a respected middle-management position in my field. My mother is a clinical professor of geriatric psychiatry. She has taken antidepressants off and on for many years, and she would be the first to tell you that she thinks NOT offering drugs to people with severe depression qualifies as malpractice.

On my more depressed days, I have a lot of sympathy for your father's point of view--but not so much that it rules out my wanting for people to have help with what I believe is a very real illness.

As for the what drug should you take thing--psychiatric treatment is kind of a crapshoot. We know that some form of antidepressant will eventually work for the majority of people, but it can take awhile to figure that out, and different drugs will work for different people at different times.

Take care, and hang in there.
posted by newrambler at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2012

We can fight anecdotes with anecdotes, but it won't really get at the problem. Which is that your dad and your friends clearly don't understand what depression is.

This, you will find, is a common problem. It's a big part of why people so rarely talk about it: because it brings out all the jackassery. Everyone has an opinion on what depression is, and most people's opinions are dead wrong.

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. People take anti-depressants in order to correct this imbalance. Not to "be more productive" or "be a good little cog" or "because no one knows how they work."

If you were a diabetic, I'm betting your dad wouldn't speculate about whether or not there are successful diabetics. I bet your friends wouldn't claim that "no one knows how insulin works." But for some reason, something about clinical depression brings out the opinions in those who don't suffer from it.

There's no point engaging them on these minor skirmishes. You may have better luck explaining that you have a serotonin deficiency, which Cymbalta helps to correct by preventing serotonin from being absorbed too quickly.

If it makes you feel any better, everyone who suffers from clinical depression has to fight this same fight, a million times over. The best thing you can do is understand that their opinions are ill-informed if not actually hostile, and try to ignore them.
posted by ErikaB at 2:00 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are there examples of 'high end' people who have successfully used anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications?

What is a "high end" person? I know a number of VPs and CEOs who take them, particularly anti-anxiety medications.

One of the things about being on anti-depressants is that if people find out they become much more likely to talk to you about their own prescriptions.

My friends think that no one really knows how they work

This is true and a real and important issue you should consider. The fact is that no one knows how the brain works in general, and these drugs affect it in measurable ways. Pretty much all you have to go on is history.

Duloxetine is the drug that you're considering. It was discovered in 1986 and patented in 1990. The FDA application process was started in 2001 and after some manufacturing issues were worked out the first commercial uses started in 2004. So call it ten years of research and eight years of actual use.

That actually makes it young by anti-depressant standards. Many were released in the early nineties and so there's been more time to pick up on long-term side effects. On the other hand the newer drugs have better side-effect profiles.

For me the question has always been a risk/reward tradeoff. I have close connections with people who run clinical trials for these drugs and as such I am convinced of the quality and unbiased nature of them, but what nobody can speak to is the long term effects.

So far the prognosis on that is good and I'm willing to take the risk. YMMV.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2012

I've been thinking about this question today -- I think you have some good answers here. I agree with everything ErikaB is saying -- I find this topic so frustrating, because yes, everyone with clinical depression has had to face this, and it kind of breaks my heart. The same fight over and over. People who are depressed are so vulnerable and what they need is to get the best help they can get. We've made so many strides in how we diagnose and treat the problem and the people who face it, and yet there's a ways to go.

Yes, there's a give and take to medication. Some work for some people, not others. Personally, I had a bad reaction to one medication and got TONS of advice from people who had no idea what they were talking about, who looked stuff up online, told me about stuff in the brain, on and on, trying to be helpful, but what helped was a medication adjustment and addition of something new.

Yes, successful people have been on medication. But their story is not your story. One of the most isolating and yet also ultimately empowering things about depression is how much you are very much ultimately on your own. It's good to have professionals you can trust and friends/family who are sympathetic, but ultimately you need to make decisions for yourself. It's hard. It's very, very hard. But it's also ultimately empowering. Because no one else has your story and no one can fix it for you. You can learn a lot about how to make the best decisions for yourself when something huge is on the line. Your mental health is something huge. It affects your physical health, current and future success, relationships, everything. Don't let anyone try to take something away from you that might help you get better.
posted by sweetkid at 2:59 PM on January 4, 2012

Sally Brampton founded British Elle and wrote a book about her depression.
posted by acidic at 3:32 PM on January 4, 2012

> Are there notable success stories ( e.g. So and so took drug x and was able to finish their novel, etc.)?

You might enjoy Carrie Fisher's work. I don't remember specifically what drugs and treatments she's had -- possibly all of them -- but she's certainly upfront about it, and she's a successful writer.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:33 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chevy Chase talks about needing antidepressants in the docu-series 'This Emotional Life'
posted by whalebreath at 7:53 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Late post, but...

Seconding "This Emotional Life," a three-part PBS documentary available on Netflix.

Also watch Stephen Fry's "Secret Life of the Manic Depressive," available in its entirety on YouTube: It features a number of celebrities.
posted by sock puppet du jour at 5:48 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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