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Coming of Age on Zoloft: How Antidepressants Cheered Us Up, Let Us Down, and Changed Who We Are Paperback – June 5, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Intuitive and investigative, personal and historical, narrative-rich and fact-packed….Part of what makes this book riveting is the way Sharpe sets her own story within the larger context of cultural, social, and psychiatric changes that moved depression (along with other mental illnesses) into the medical spotlight.” (Elle)

“Sharpe is excellent at detailing the positives and negatives of these drugs … But she is best at probing broader societal issues … This is a fine book that nicely weaves together personal, sociological, and philosophical perspectives for a thoughtful view of how antidepressants are shaping many people’s lives.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A knowing account of what it is like to grow up on psychiatric medications....Balanced and informative--an education for any parent considering psychiatric medication for a troubled adolescent.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Beautifully written. . . . This is a book for anyone taking or thinking about taking antidepressants, anyone who prescribes them, anyone who wonders about their suitability-or anyone who wants a mirror held up to our time.” (Dr. David Healy, author of Let Them Eat Prozac)

“A fascinating look at how drugs and trends have shaped the identities of individuals and of a generation-provocative without being sensationalistic, skillfully written, and totally necessary.” (Emily Gould, author And the Heart Says Whatever)

From the Back Cover

When Katherine Sharpe arrived at her college health center with an age-old complaint, a bad case of homesickness, she received a thoroughly modern response: a twenty-minute appointment and a prescription for Zoloft—a drug she would take for the next ten years. This outcome, once unlikely, is now alarmingly common. Twenty-five years after Prozac entered the marketplace, 10 percent of Americans over the age of six use an SSRI antidepressant.

In Coming of Age on Zoloft, Sharpe blends deeply personal writing, thoughtful interviews, and historical context to achieve an unprecedented portrait of the antidepressant generation. She explores questions of identity that arise for people who start medication before they have an adult sense of self. She asks why some individuals find a diagnosis of depression reassuring, while others are threatened by it. She presents, in young people's own words, their intimate and complicated relationships with their medication. And she weighs the cultural implications of America's biomedical approach to moods.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062059734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062059734
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This is not your typical hack job against drugs -- this book is thoughtful and well researched. I love the way she integrates her own experience with information, like how antidepressants were discovered, the problems with defining depression anyway, and thoughts about how we as a whole culture feel about happiness and success. A long time ago, I came to realize that parents who say "I only want my child to be happy" are the most demanding parents of all. My own children have both had "happiness" problems and I wish I had had this book a long time ago. It doesn't tell you that antidepressants are uselesss -- quite the contrary. She talked to a lot of people with different experiences. But this book makes you think, and if you or your children need to take antidepressants, this book will help you talk about it.
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Format: Paperback
This book starts out like an up-to-date Bell Jar. A smart young woman spends the summer before she goes off to college pondering life and veering toward a breakdown. (Luckily, she gets prescribed anti-depressants this time - and not electroshock.)

From there, though, it takes a quick turn through the history of anti-depressants. The author then introduces the stories of some fellow depression sufferers, typically organized around particular themes. Finally, the book discusses some of the issues with anti-depressants - in particular, those centering around anti-depressants and personal identity.

Overall, it's a pretty effective organizational scheme. Between that and the author's excellent writing style, this book equates to a very good read.

The one thing I didn't like about it, however, is how the author's own experiences color the parts of the book that aren't just memoir. What do I mean? Well, she happened to be one of those depression sufferers who couldn't wait to get off her meds. She also happened to have a great experience with her therapist. So, when discussing these two topics, though she bends over backwards to make sure all viewpoints are discussed, it's pretty obvious what side she's on.

There's also really little here that is new or earth-shattering. That said, it is a good summary and also very effective at relating one person's viewpoint and experience.
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Format: Paperback
Katherine Sharpe has written a compelling book for people who want a more nuanced understanding of interactions between emotions, personal identity, pharmaceutical companies, and American culture. She infuses personal memoir with a critical look at pervasive beliefs about mental illness and pharmaceuticals. At the same time, her writing style proves accessible to readers who have not yet ventured into literature about antidepressant usage. The openness of her writing is created by weaving her personal story with interviews, scientific literature, and philosophy to the effect that she engages rather than alienates people who suffer or have suffered from depression and/or anxiety.

Young adults, their friends, family, and university staff can all benefit from better understanding common dilemmas antidepressant-users face, and Ms. Sharpe thoroughly outlines them. For example, she addresses questions like, `Is the anti-depressant masking the person I am, or am I more myself with the medication?', or even, `How do I know who I am when I have taken antidepressants from an early age?' Her book also subtly challenges the reader to abandon categorical thinking and strict adherence to cultural myths. For example, she explains that the all-too-common belief that `I am broken because I suffer from sadness' is reinforced by cultural messages that college students should feel and act happy. She asserts that we can better support young adults by recognizing and validating their experiences with increasing societal pressures, then assisting them to find the treatment best for them.

Importantly, Ms. Sharpe does not portray antidepressants as `good' or `bad', but rather offers important points to consider when thinking about beginning, continuing, and ending their use.
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The book could have been better, more analytical, more to the point but it is intelligent and well written. The book should have had an index and should have said more about cognitive therapy and Aaron Beck, Martin Seligman, David Burns, etc. She has a brief and inadequate discussion on pages 169-174.; cognitive therapy is the best alternative to medication for depression and other conditions. She should also have given a good deal of space to the works of Kay Redfield Jamison on Manic Depression. Jamison has written a number of extremely important works.

But I particularly liked what she said in her conclusion. It is not new or unique or complete but she states it well:

P282 It is ironic that medication has become a choice that we're perennially hovering over. Despite the DSM task force's "increased commitment to reliance on data as the basis for understanding mental disorders," the last twenty years have seen an increase both in our collective confusion about what mental illness is and about where the boundaries of normal should be drawn...

P283 Whatever its causes, the extraordinary proliferation of psychiatric drug use that began twenty-five years ago with the arrival of Prozac shows few signs of slowing. Spending on prescription drugs in the United States more than doubled between 1999 and 2008, thanks in part to sales of psychopharmaceuticals...

P291 It is easy to take a pill. It's forbiddingly difficult to remake society in a healthier image...If antidepressants impacted my generation by teaching us that we have some recourse to feeling fruitless misery, then they have done us a real and lasting benefit.
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