29 June 2012

Imprint Friday: Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Harper Perennial. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

When Erica Barmash, Senior Marketing Manager at HarperCollins, first mentioned today's featured book, I was only vaguely interested. I know people who have struggled with depression, but I (thank goodness) have no personal experience. But once I started reading Katherine Sharpe's Coming of Age on Zoloft, I simply couldn't stop.

Here's the summary:

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.
I can't summarize the book any better than that, but I can tell you that Sharpe has written a compelling account of a generation of Americans whose teenage mood swings were chemically controlled by pharmaceuticals. Were Sharpe's initial episodes of anxiety and depression truly a cause for concern? After all, her father suffered from depression and so it was possible Sharpe had inherited a chemical imbalance. On the other hand, isn't it normal for a seventeen-year-old high school graduate to feel worried about leaving home and to be concerned about moving across the country to start a new life?

Interweaving research, history, and science with her own story and those of dozens of men and women whom she interviewed, Sharpe explores issues that seem unique to her generation. Perhaps because I went to college about twenty-five years before Sharpe did and perhaps because I don't have children, I truly had no idea that preteens, teens, and young adults were (at least at one time) put on antidepressants almost as a matter of course. As a result, Coming of Age on Zoloft was an eye-opener for me.

Besides the personal stories, I was particularly interested in some of the questions Sharpe discusses, such as (and I'm paraphrasing):
  • If you start taking Prozac at age fourteen and stay on it, how do you ever learn what your true personality is?
  • Once you start on antidepressants, how can you ever feel confident enough to get off of them?
  • Is it always a good thing to have your moods evened out?
The answers to these questions and others aren't simple, and doctors and patients don't agree on the worth of pharmaceuticals. While some of the people Sharpe interviewed praised Prozac as the best thing that ever happened to them, others weren't so sure. It may be that people who are truly depressed find antidepressants to be a godsend but those who may simply be going through a rough time or who may need psychotherapy instead have more doubts.

Sharpe made the choice to go off Zoloft but is quick to point out that her choice might not be right for everyone. She tapered off slowly and watched for signs of returning debilitating anxiety; five years drug free, and she's still doing fine. One of the turning points for Sharpe was deciding to try psychotherapy instead of relying solely on drugs. Through more traditional help, she came to see that feeling blue is not all bad—that mourning, being afraid, and being sad are parts of normal life. That's not to deny that some youngsters need more help and the relatively quick action of pharmaceuticals, but Sharpe presents a good argument for taking the time to distinguish a true depression from the normal troubles of growing up.

It's important to point out that Sharpe narrowed her focus on this extremely broad field. Coming of Age on Zoloft is part memoir, and that part forms the core of her inquiry. If you are looking for information about antidepressants and the elderly or misbehaving toddlers, you'll need to look elsewhere. As Sharpe says,
This is a book about what it's like to grow up on antidepressants. It attempts a faithful description of an activity that has become remarkably common—using antidepressants as a teenager or young adult—but still engenders intense, complicated, and often conflicted feelings, both in the young people who do it and the adults who are involved in their care. (p. xvi, uncorrected proof)
Whether you're a member of the pharmaceutical generation or not, I recommend reading Katherine Sharpe's Coming of Age on Zoloft. It may help you help yourself, a friend, or child, and it'll likely make you aware of how insidious antidepressants have become in modern society.

For more on Katherine Sharpe, read her interview with Wired. She is also writing a blog for Psychology Today called "Generation Meds." For even more, visit her website, blog, or Facebook page and follow her on Twitter.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Coming of Age on Zoloft at an Indie
Coming of Age on Zoloft at Powell's
Coming of Age on Zoloft at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Harper Perennial, June 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062059734


Sandy Nawrot 6/29/12, 7:21 AM  

I've heard a lot about this book, and I think it is timely! The addiction to antidepressants (both on the part of the users AND the pushers!) IS insidious! I deplore the instinct these days to medicate, and put bandaids on things that can be fixed. There is a time and place for it, but sometimes the best solution is to feel the feelings and grind through. Better than living in a bubble.

bermudaonion 6/29/12, 9:11 AM  

I kind of dismissed this book too but it sounds like it's well worth a read. Vance knew a lot of kids in high school and college who were on antidepressants. I know some people truly need them but think others were on them unnecessarily. You're supposed to be sad sometimes.

Daryl 6/29/12, 9:32 AM  

just, literally last nite, had a discussion about teens, depression and how two different friends dealt with their kids and depression and the need to excel in school .. and we talked about how different it is today vs when we were in high school .. thanks for the review, I am recommending it to those two friends

Erica 6/29/12, 9:36 AM  

I think the most important thing the book points out is that there's such a huge difference between going on antidepressants at age 14 or 17 and going on them at 25 or 30 or older. And the book also stresses how life-saving these meds can be, and how it's such a personal choice.

Col (Col Reads) 6/29/12, 11:48 AM  

Wow, what a timely book. I am eager to read this one.

Anonymous,  6/29/12, 12:39 PM  

10% OVER THE AGE OF 6?? Holy cow, they give depressants to kids that young??

Julie P. 6/29/12, 10:02 PM  

I think this book is probably fascinating. I know three girls Booking Daughter's age that are already on anti-depressants!

chrisa511 6/30/12, 10:42 PM  

I've been REALLY curious about this book! And I think I'm going to get it now after this review!! Working at a psyc hospital, I get really upset sometimes because the doctors just automatically put EVERYONE, including kids as young as like 5 on antidepressants as soon as they come in…yes I think some people need them. I've been on one antidepressant or another for years. I've tried getting off of them and I know they've benefited me…some people though sadly get put on them when they really shouldn't and it can totally just zombie them out :( Ok…must get this one!

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