Have SSRIs Gotten a Bad Rep? The Author of "Listening to Prozac" Thinks So

By Diane Cole

July/August 2016

Ordinarily Well: The Case for Antidepressants

By Peter Kramer

Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 308 pages.


If you listen to Peter Kramer—distinguished psychiatrist and author of the 1993 bestseller Listening to Prozac, among other well-regarded books—SSRIs aren’t mere placebos oversold by Big Pharma to an easily gulled public, as some critics continue to charge. On the contrary, in his latest book, Ordinarily Well: The Case for Antidepressants, Kramer argues passionately that these medications represent the best, most effective tool we have to fight the bleakness of depression.

Part of the evidence, he contends, is the almost complete absence of cases today exhibiting the most severe end-of-the-line depression that he encountered regularly in hospital wards during his medical training in Boston in the late 1970s. These patients, he writes, were “thin, immobile suffering souls, prematurely aged,” almost mute, depleted of all energy. Although antidepressants like imipramine had been available since the 1950s, the doctors with whom Kramer trained (many of them Freudians) scorned them as an unnecessary crutch at best, and an impediment to the workings of the unconscious at worst. Thus, when talk therapy alone didn’t work, patients were left to grit it out on their own—which too often meant continuing to suffer and deteriorate into ever deeper despair.

Today, these types of cases are so rare that most…

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