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High on happiness, with pills and gurus

More than friend, mentor and guides, most gurus in India function as the friendly neighbourhood psychiatric clinic.

health and fitness Updated: Feb 13, 2011 00:04 IST
Sanchita Sharma

More than friend, mentor and guides, most gurus in India function as the friendly neighbourhood psychiatric clinic. When anxiety bogs your mind and indecision dogs your steps, you turn to them for guidance and inspiration. Like good psychologists, they do everything short of prescribing medicine: They listen to your problems, ask you to meditate to de-stress yourself and take your money.

With the choice of support from the extended family and a dime-a-dozen spiritual leaders, most Indians manage to cope with mundane stressors such as bad marriages and insufferable colleagues.

Not any more. If the growth of the market for antidepressant medicines is anything to go by, Indians are popping happy pills almost as freely as the Britons, who infamously managed to pollute the country’s ground and river water with the antidepressant prozac to such an extent that drinking water supply contained traces of the drug.

In India, the market for antidepressants stands at Rs 475 core, growing at 17 per cent annually. Anti-psychotics used to treat schizophrenia — but also often wrongly prescribed for related illnesses such as bipolar disorder and anxiety — are also growing at 14 per cent, with the current market worth being R193 crore, reports the latest ORG IMS data, which provides data for the pharmaceutical industry in India.

The growth of the antidepressant market is not unique to India. The Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety Journal has reported that prescription of anti-psychotic drugs in the US has doubled over the past 15 years, with doctors often prescribing them to treat conditions that they have little or no effect on. Researchers from the University of Chicago report that between 1995 and 2008, prescriptions for antidepressants shot up from 6.2 million to 14.3 million in 2008, even though side effects of long-term use include diabetes, weight gain, sexual dysfunction and increased risk of heart disease. Add to this, illegal non-prescription sales over the internet and we have a world high on drug-induced happiness.

Depression is a term used to describe a wide range of symptoms, that most often include feeling low, loss of interest in things around you, guilt, low self-worth, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.

Since everyone goes through highs and lows, drugs and treatment should be sought if these problems become chronic (lasts for more than six to eight weeks), recurrent (bouts of depression occur three-four times a year), or the mood interferes with your ability to function normally for more than a few weeks. At worst, depression leads to suicide, which is responsible for 8.5 lakhs deaths around the world, shows World Health Organisation data.

Among the most popular anti-depressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), with fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem, Fluctin, Fontex, Prodep, Fludep), fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine (Aropax, Paxil, Seroxat), citalopram (Celexa, Cipramil), escitalopram (Lexapro, Cipralex, Seroplex, Lexamil, Lexam )and sertraline (Serlift, Zoloft, Lustral, Asentra, Gladem). Side effects include nausea, diarrhoea, insomnia, agitation, decreased libido and impotence. Only fluoxetine has approval for treating depression among teenagers.

With major stressors like board exams and fear of being dateless on Valentine’s Day just days away, tracking mood changes among your family and friends may be a good idea. Once the problem is identified, all you have to do is ask them to choose between medical and spiritual prescriptions. No one can now say they have a tough time living.