JENNI MURRAY: I went on Prozac for six months – but was I depressed?

JENNI MURRAY: I went on Prozac for six months and it made me feel like a zombie — but was I really depressed?

  • Jenni reflects on the fact that 8 million people in England are on antidepressants 
  •  READ MORE: Millions of antidepressants are dished out to treat pain every year – despite ‘shocking’ lack of evidence that powerful drugs work, study claims

This week we learned that there are more than eight million people in England taking antidepressants — and more than a quarter of those have been on them for at least five years.

That is appalling, especially given research from Bristol University shows long-term use could double the risk of heart disease and that the longer you’re on the drugs, the harder it is to come off them. 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists says long-term use ‘should only be considered for people that have recurrent depression and repeated, severe relapses after stopping antidepressants’. 

I was in my mid-50s when I went to the doctor saying I was deeply depressed. In no time at all I was off to the chemist with a prescription for Prozac — the fashionable medication of the time.

Looking back, I can’t honestly say I was clinically depressed. I was certainly more than just fed up. 

More than eight million people in England are taking antidepressants, with more than a quarter taking the tablets for at least five years 

Both my parents had died within six months of each other. I, as an only child, had no siblings with whom to share my grief — or to help deal with their deterioration, demise and work through the bureaucracy of arranging funerals and clearing their home.

I also had two teenage children who needed my support and guidance. I was the family breadwinner with a high-pressure job as presenter of BBC Woman’s Hour.

While working in London, I lived in a basement flat I called Wuthering Depths, returning to the Peak District family home every weekend. During the four days a week I spent alone in that flat, I missed my husband and sons terribly.

I was newly menopausal. Oh and, yes, by the way, I had breast cancer, a mastectomy and chemotherapy. I conducted my father’s funeral wearing a wig.

No wonder I felt miserable. I took the Prozac and those feelings of abject misery went away. It was working, I thought. Then, as the weeks went on, I began to realise I had no feelings of any kind.

Nothing made me angry, nothing excited me, nothing seemed remotely amusing or interesting. I just got up day after day and did everything I had to do on autopilot. 

I’d become a zombie, but I was canny enough to realise this wasn’t right. I wasn’t living. I was merely existing. Towards the end of the recommended six months, I began to wean myself off.

First, I took one every other day, then just two a week, then one a week, then none. I began to feel pretty fed up again and struggled to get life back on track.

Jenni was prescribed Prozac in her mid-fifties, but she now wonders whether she was truly depressed or just going through a remarkably difficult period 

But at least I was feeling something — and that was infinitely better than feeling I’d been wiped out. I was alive again.

Ever since then I’ve asked myself if I was ever truly depressed. Was I not just going through one of those periods in life when everything seems to go wrong and the anxiety becomes overwhelming?

Did I ever really need antidepressants? I don’t think so. A sympathetic ear to share my distress would have helped me put my own mental health back on track.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in depression and the benefits that can come from qualified psychiatric care. 

As a child, when my father was working on long-term engineering contracts all over the world, I spent many years living with my grandparents. 

My grandmother was often described as a ‘bit down’ by family members and a ‘manic depressive’ by the medical profession. It would probably be bipolar these days.

No one could be as funny, energetic and sociable as her on her good days. Then she would crash. I’d find her standing at the bay window muttering to herself that she was ‘going funny’. 

She would run out of the house, heading down the lane towards the canal and the railway line. Several times I’d catch her, bring her home, save her from a suicide attempt and report back to Grandpa that she needed help — again.

Jenni weaned herself off the antidepressants when she realised that they had numbed all her emotions and left her in a zombie-like state 

Frequent antidepressants would sometimes suffice to get her back on track. Several times she would come back from hospital with burn marks on her temples. 

She’d had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which made her lose her memory, before slowly coming back to her cheerful self again.

I have no doubt my grandmother needed treatment. Her oldest sister also suffered from depression. She found her way out with her head in the gas oven.

But I do believe that, for some of us, depression is too strong a word to apply to those moments in life when we feel too low to cope.

Yes, there is war in Europe and a terror of how it might spread; an economy that has left so many desperate for enough money to house and feed their families; and the safety net on which we’d depended for so long — the NHS — is no longer a given.

The problem is if you’re anxious and stressed, you are lucky to get a timely appointment with your GP. 

My GP informed me yesterday that my appointment this week —face to face, with a new GP — must last for no more than ten minutes ‘for the benefit of other patients’.

We can probably manage in that time a review of my asthma and something to help with chronic back pain, but supposing my need was more complex?

What if I needed to talk and get thoughtful advice about my mental health?

It’s unlikely I’d be sent for a talking therapy — there’s a desperate shortage of such assistance on the NHS. 

It’s far more likely I’d be sent away with a prescription for an antidepressant, to be repeated as often as I thought necessary.

Ten minutes of the doctor’s time. Quick fix. Done and dusted.

That’s how eight million of us are on these pills.

At 18, Emma’s win came too young

Emma Raducanu won the U.S. Open in 2021 at the age of 18, but she sustained serious injuries during the ‘brutal tour’

We had such high hopes for Emma Raducanu’s tennis when she won the U.S. Open in 2021, but we forgot she was just a child. 

What 18-year-old can be expected to cope with the attention she had? She was beautiful, strong and would revel in the millions that were showered upon her. Not so. 

Now she says she wishes she’d never won it. The ‘brutal tour’ has left her with injuries for which she’s needed surgery. She must recover and come back to thrill us — with maturity and a mean backhand. 

Jeremy has finally caught up with Granny

Jeremy Clarkson’s Nettle Soup is priced at £5.80 for 500ml 

Jeremy Clarkson’s got the right idea for making some money at his farm shop. 

I suppose Nettle Soup is the very definition of Diddly Squat. The basic ingredient grows wild and is free. 

It must be the cream, potatoes, chicken stock and butter that justifies the £5.80 for 500ml.

My granny made it herself. Delicious. She also boiled nettles as a green veg and made me drink the water. 

‘Good for the skin,’ she said. She was right. Just remember to wear gloves when you pick the nettles.

Every afternoon, for half an hour, I have a snooze which sparks me up for the rest of the day. Now I read naps are good for the brain. So kids, no more sneering at ‘old lady dozing’, thank you very much. I’ll match you in sharpness for a long time to come.

Glastonbury? No thanks!

Jenni is not envious of the Woman’s Hour team who will be broadcasting the show from Glastonbury Festival on Friday 

Tomorrow, Woman’s Hour will be broadcast from Glastonbury. Am I jealous? Quite the reverse. 

Thank goodness they never asked me to wear wellies and a raincoat to make a programme in the mud and the rain. Phew! 

I’ve long been furious at the young complaining about how hard their lives are and how easy their elders had it.

OK, houses were cheaper, education was free, but mortgage rates? Give me a break.

In the late 1980s, with two small children to care for, ours went up for a short time to 19 per cent. 

The current generation has paid next to nothing which means that we hardworking, lifelong savers have earned next to nothing.

It’s hard but young people will manage, just as we did.

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